Picture are (from left) seniors Kyra Stanton and Olivia Pechous and junior Maddy Small, who took charge of conducting the student gun control walk-out event at York High School on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m., part of a national initiative. The young ladies scheduled the 17-minute ceremony, selecting three students’ essays to be read from among 20 submissions. “We chose the essays that offered the best message while being the least partisan,” said Pechous, who is also Student Body President.

By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent

 

Led by York seniors Kyra Stanton and Olivia Pechous and junior Maddy Small, York High School held a student gun control walkout event on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m., as part of a national initiative to draw attention to gun violence in schools.

Just prior to 10 a.m., most students were permitted to peacefully exit the building and join a group that gathered on York’s front steps for a 17-minute ceremony, in honor of the 17 persons who were killed in the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Most of the youth carried signs. Extra signs had been made so that everyone could participate.

After the ceremony, Stanton, Pechous and Small met with members of the local media as well as District 205 Superintendent Dr. David Moyer. Some reporters commented about how extra-secure the school was today, not surprisingly, with police cars present and blocked lot entrances.

“Our concerns today were only for the students’ safety,” he said. “We wanted them to have their voices heard, but were concerned that it be done in a controlled, safe way. “

He praised the efforts of the three young ladies, noting how well they worked along with others in the school.

“I’m very impressed with these girls and the administration and how they worked together for a legitimate purpose that was done in a safe and orderly way,” Moyer said.

 

About the walkout…

“It was mostly the students choice, but there were some who were not allowed, if they had a test or something,” Stanton said. “Those who had gym during that period did not participate either.

“We set up an Instagram page about the event, that’s how everyone found out about it. All together, there were 800-1000 students who walked out and there’s a total of 2700 students at York, so we think that’s a pretty good number.”

The young ladies scheduled the 17-minute ceremony – right down to the minute — selecting three students’ essays to be read from among 20 submissions.

“We chose the essays that offered the best message while being the least partisan,” said Pechous, who is also president of the student body, although she made a point that this was not a student council activity.

 

Goals include taking action for future

Asked their goals for the day, Stanton spoke up.

“It was our goal to send a message to our legislators [about gun safety] and to unify students on this political, bipartisan issue,” she said. “But this can’t be the end today, we must follow up and take action. The issues are school safety, gun safety and mental health. We really want to see student mental health at the forefront.”

Pechous echoed Stanton’s statements that more awareness needs to be brought to the issue of gun violence in schools.

“The more we can do, the better,” she said. “We have nothing like a club – but that’s what we need, something like a club to promote mental health, just to start the conversation, so people feel open to talk about it. Then we would encourage that conversation to continue among students, teachers and parents.

“We didn’t want this to be the end, we wanted it to be the beginning.”

Stanton answered a question about possible naysayers or any backlash they suffered about the walkout.

“The only backlash we heard was from students who seemed to think it was a partisan issue.

“We don’t want to take away anyone’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms,” she said, shaking her head as she spoke. “We believe in the 2nd Amendment, but it should be able to be reformed without taking away gun rights. For the sake of school safety, we just want to see change. Again, the focus should be on students’ mental health.”

 

Organizers grateful for supportive staff, parents

The three students made special mention about how supportive the staff and administration was.

“We understand the concern for safety,” said Small. “But we appreciate the administration and we felt like our voices were heard.

“We even felt like the whole Elmhurst community was behind us.”

As one example of community support, they related that Brewpoint Coffee allowed the students to use the backroom of its new roasting facility on north York Road, which is also an art space, to make the posters.

“They donated the posters and the markers,” Pechous said. “They gave us anything we needed.”

Besides the school and the community, the girls felt very supported by their parents.

“We are actually all very lucky to have parents who are very understanding and supportive,” Kyra said. “They were great to talk to throughout the planning of the walkout and they were always on our side.”

Asked what surprised them about the experience, all three agreed it was seeing students participate, whom they never expected.

“I saw people I never thought would come out and take part in this,” said Small.

“I agree, it was great to see all my peers’ faces, including some I’d never thought I’d see. Luckily we made extra signs, so they were available for people who didn’t make signs. It was amazing to see support from the kids you would not expect to participate, picking up signs and walking around.”

 

Parkland hits close to home

Kyra, Olivia and Maddy pointed out how York had been stunned by the events that took place at the high school in Parkland, Fla.

“We realize it could have been here,” Olivia said.

“The demographics, the size of the town, the size of the high school are so similar to us and to Elmhurst,” said Maddy. “It really hit us how it could so easily have happened right here.”

“Everyone really came together,” said Kyra, “and we really wanted that to sink in.”

“We tried to make the statement that, ‘if we can come together, so can you,” Olivia said.

“’And the children shall lead them,’” Dr. Moyer said, repeating a quote.

It came as no surprise to learn that Kyra and Olivia, who are 18, are already registered to vote. At 17, Maddy will be joining them as soon as she is able.

 

 

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