News Detail

Walking Out and Into Learning

It has been an exciting last few weeks in the Middle School with this past weekend's performances of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," the Winter Concert, the fifth and sixth grade Young Composers and Improvisors Workshop concerts, the seventh grade Colonial Museum and our annual Winter Assembly. While there is much to say about all of these events, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about last Friday's High School student walkout. As Phil and Micah communicated to high school families:

A quick note at the end of an interesting, inspiring and complicated day in LREI’s high school. This morning, just after morning meeting, 195 high school students (and eventually a few eighth graders) walked out of the high school in protest. They were joining the many demonstrations that have occurred in the past few weeks in the aftermath of the two grand jury decisions, in Ferguson, MO and in Staten Island, NY. While this was not a school-sponsored event, a small number of teachers accompanied the students to make sure they were safe. The group marched to the Sixth Avenue campus, to Washington Square Park and from there to the Sixth Precinct. After staging a “Die-in” at the precinct they marched to Union Square Park, into midtown, past Penn Station and rallied on the steps of the Post Office before heading back to LREI. Upon their return, students checked in, had lunch and went back to class. The day ended with an all school meeting to discuss the events and talk about any next steps.

We are proud of the students, those who left the building and those who did not, for having the courage of their convictions. We are grateful to the faculty for supporting the students without making the protest their own. The community will continue to discuss the issues at the heart of the walkout and the walkout itself, while, of course, getting back to the business of school on Monday. Today saw many lessons learned, many skills developed and passions raised. We are sure, given our terrific high school students that there is much more to come.

It was an equally interesting and inspiring day in the middle school, as eighth graders struggled internally and with each other about whether to participate. They communicated their frustration to teachers and administration about not having "permission" to join the walkout. As it was a day steeped in student voice, I share with you some of the thoughts and reflections from our eighth graders.

For those who did make the decision to walkout, they expressed a range of reasons for their decision and articulated some important learnings:

Daniel: I walked out because I felt that this was an important time and issue for me, both as a male of color, and as a young person in society to stand up for something and make a statement. Just from watching in the crowd, I felt the unity and togetherness of 200+ students, all as one. I learned that our voices do matter, and that we as young people can make a difference through our voices.

Jane: I walked out because I feel incredibly passionate about what is happening in our Nation right now and I refuse to be silent about the incredible injustices that have been served to our community members. I made the personal and independent choice to march with my peers because I want to be part of the change. Just like the school has always taught me to do, I was being an activist. I knew going into this that there was the possibility of huge consequences, but in my eyes, there is nothing that can be done to me to take away the feeling that I had when I was with my school, walking down the street, chanting, and fighting for something we believe in.

JustinThe experience of walking out with the majority of the LREI community was an amazing experience that I learned a lot from and one that I will never forget. I learned how it actually feels for someone to care about something so much that they were willing to protest and potentially face consequences. I learned to stand up for what I believe in, which is essentially one of the biggest goals of our school's social justice project. Lastly, and most importantly, I learned how powerful a group of people can be when they unite peacefully and strongly for a common belief. This was the most unified moment that I have ever seen in the LREI community and it was a moment of undeniable strength.

KellinI always thought that you learn more going on trips and being out in the world than sitting in a classroom. I learned how passionate our school is. I learned that LREI is school where they will let their students go out and protest/walkout. I learned what it felt like to stand up for what I believe in. I learned how to be an activist. I have been at LREI since I was in kindergarten and you have always taught us to be activists and go out and stand up for what we believe in. I stood up for what I believed in.

NubiaI also felt obliged to walk out not only because of my race and affinity, but because of an instinct. I knew that I would be able to spark change by doing this and I did what I thought the school would have wanted me to do and would've been proud of. I wanted to seize this opportunity because I believe that what is going on in America is completely unjust and horrific. This is something that needs to be changed, and by participating in this walkout, I believe I was walking towards justice.

Those who chose not to walkout had equally compelling reasons for their decisions and many found ways to protest despite not being on the walkout:

NinaNow that I reflect back, I have some regrets of not participating, but I know that at the moment, I felt safe and comfortable with the decision that I made, and that there are plenty of opportunities for me to participate in the future. I leaned that often times, it can be incredibly difficult to make spontaneous decisions, especially when the actions and words of people around you (teacher and friends) are heavily influencing you. It can be difficult to make your own decision, based on balancing the gains and losses, when others are there to discourage or encourage you to do something, regardless of what you personally feel. I observed that many of my classmates were content with the final decision that they made, keeping in mind the importance of the cause (for those who walked out), and the future opportunities (for those who did not walk out).

RoseAfter some decision making I decided there would be many opportunities for the school to come together and fight for what we believe in. I also think even if the middle schoolers were encouraged to walk out, I would still consider whether I'm going because I believe in the issue or because my friends are going.  I learned that our school has devoted activists who can find ways to fight for what they believe in. For example, many of the kids who stayed at school during the walk out did a silent protest and wore signs that said, "black lives matter." I also learned that although our school promotes "choosing to participate" they also care about our safety.

DamianI didn't walk out last Friday. That is because I don't fully support the cause because it makes generalizations about all police officers that I don't agree with. I learned that some kids were very devoted to the cause. They were willing to risk getting in trouble for what they believe in, while others were sympathetic towards it, but weren't as bold.

KatieI didn't walk out because school is my priority and while I believe in the cause, I felt that the better choice for me was to stay. Instead of walking out I did not talk to show my support and helped make signs. I learned that the right thing to do differs for each persons and for some people it was walking in the march and for others it was staying at the school.

Ella: I didn't walk out because I worried that I could be banned from being in the play and I didn't want to let my cast-mates down. I also helped to organize the silence of the day where we taped our mouths shut. I learned that our school values teaching students a real-life lesson about consequences than trying to encourage students to fight for a cause that the school is behind. I understand the other perspective however.

Students also had powerful thoughts about how they might continue to support efforts for justice and equity and the complexities associated with these efforts:

ClaireThe walk out and protest was only the beginning to many more things I would like to do to get involved in the future. After being a part of this, I care about the topic more than I already did before. I think that it would be great if students gathered more often about topics they are passionate about, outside of our social justice projects because this could lead to more inspiring moments in LREI’s school history. I want my next step to be continue to inform people about this issue by sharing my personal opinion. Overall, after reflecting on the walk out it only make me more passionate about what I did, what happened, and looking forward to more peaceful protests in the future. I am so grateful to have been a part of the walk out because it was definitely one of the most inspirational moments of my life.

AvaI'm not sure what I will do next. It's undetermined. I react to things immediately. I'm not the type of person who makes pros and cons lists when an opportunity is presented. I don't plan. I don't write checklists. When something comes along I just react. So I'm not sure what I will do next because I'm not sure what the world will do next. Or what my friends will do next. Or what will happen next, and until I do, I'm not sure what I will be doing next.

KiyomiI learned the power of multiple voices and the value of organization and strong leaders. I also learned that no matter how right you may be, there are those who don't fully support your cause. In the end, I learned that nothing would ever get done if we all said that we cared and supported issues, but never actually did anything. [So] I will continue to fight against racial inequality. First off I should really learn more on this topic. Over the winter break I will be at a gathering with both my relatives who are in the police force and those who have been stopped and frisked. I would really like to hear both sides of this story before I go off fighting blindly and uneducated.

What was hardest for our all of our eighth graders especially in the context of their yearlong inquiry into social justice, was the fact that not only did we not stop our planned activities for the day and as a grade join the high school students, but it was communicated to students that classes were scheduled to go on as planned and that students who choose to leave would in effect be "cutting classes."

MaxineWhen I walked out and I saw how amazing the students of LREI were and how committed they are to helping the community, it was truly inspiring, but to go back to school and hear how there were possibilities of taking away someone's presidency, or people actually getting in trouble for doing this, made me really confused and took away some of the joy from protesting. I completely understand that leaving/skipping school is not allowed, but I was wrong when I thought that the school I grew up in was going to get mildly angry and threaten consequences for students standing up for people's rights and equality who grew up listening to LREI's advice. Ever since I was in kindergarten, I would see diversity/equality boards in the lobby and in any class, we discuss and view protesting for good causes and standing up for what you believe in as a courageous and valiant thing to do. I've never sat in a single humanities class where we talked about people protesting for equality and the teachers taught us to regard that as a negative thing. Frankly, I was really confused. It seemed like people could be punished for what, I felt like, was the right thing to do and that upset me because I think specifically what [the HS student leaders] did was exceedingly brave and inspiring and, to me, that is the kind of person that everyone should look up to and if the school is going to get [them] in trouble  instead of applauding [them] for it, then that's also telling everyone else not to follow in [their] footsteps. Maybe in other schools, it would be bad for people to do something like this, but not in LREI.

DestinyI walked out to protest for something I believe in. Walking out was me making the decision that making sure the streets that I grow up in, are safe. The walkout was very inspiring, and I would definitely do it again. What saddens me is that even though me and many other people walked out for justice, it was only seen as cutting school, which I admit it was, but that was not the point. This school is always telling us to take social action and change our society, but when we try, we get penalized. When I walked out, I wasn't caring about the consequences because in the end, if I made a change, getting in trouble wouldn't matter. I loved participating, because it was exhilarating, and I would do it again. As a result of going to the protest, I learned that when people band together, almost anything can be accomplished. I also learned that the voice of the people is in fact the strongest voice.

The question of officially supporting the walkout (though it certainly had our full unofficial support) was a difficult decision to make. In the end, we felt that as a student-initiated action, it did not make sense for us to make it the plan for the day and in so doing effectively require students to participate. As a learning moment and one that resonates with our students' study of social justice movements, these kinds of actions rarely come with the obstacles already cleared out of the way. The decision to support a particular cause may feel or be right, but it is never easy and there are always choices and consequences hanging in the balance.  In some sense, the school's decision to march as a group in Saturday's protest was the easier version of this choice; it was maybe a bit more like a "field trip" albeit an important one. Friday was different. Our appearance of "stepping back" and not giving permission really required students to think deeply about their decision to walkout or not; there was some sense of "real" risk involved. Finding that spot where just the right amount of support is coupled with just the right amount risk is the place where truly lasting and meaningful learning takes place. That was our goal on Friday. We will continue to dialog with students about our intentions and how we can work together to support the causes that matter to them. And for those wondering about consequences, all eighth graders were asked to reflect on the meaning of the day. We are proud of all of our students for the thought that they put into this day; I know that it will lead to more learning and significant action in support of these truly important causes.
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