A Community Effort to Make Change Happen

The recent National School Walkout protests brought students across the country together to call for legislation that responds to gun violence and presented the Parker community with an ideal opportunity to cultivate creative citizenship in our student body.
Recognizing the need for developmentally appropriate ways to approach this topic among the school’s 14 grade levels, teachers, students and administrators worked both independently and collaboratively to develop and plan out meaningful ways for interested students to observe this important moment. They also realized that some students might prefer not to participate, so they planned several alternative activities.
Since their return from February Recess, Upper School student leaders have been working hard to develop a full day of learning about gun violence to pair with their walkout event as a way of adding their voices to the ever-growing national conversation on youth activism. These students want to spark a dialogue and improve our school-wide discourse on the reality of guns in America.
In a similar manner, a number of 8th grade students expressed a desire to organize and lead a student action against gun violence on the day of the walkout. These students needed to show their solidarity with youth across America on a national day of student action that emerged from the activism of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Middle School administrators and teachers worked with student leaders to create a meaningful series of experiences to join their peers nationwide, teach others and facilitate reflection and conversation on next steps as part of their engaged citizenship. These activities included student-orchestrated teach-ins on “The Facts on Gun Violence in America and What Citizens Can Do” for interested 5th–8th graders and dedicated sign making time in the shop the day before the walkout.
Parker’s Junior and Senior Kindergarten teachers seized upon this teachable moment as well. After a discussion about rules in the classroom (e.g., no hitting, no gun play, non-violent communication, etc.), they related those rules to the world at large with bigger questions like: Do you think adults should follow the rule of “no hitting”? Do you think adults should go around playing with guns? Do you think adults should communicate in non-violent ways? The answers were easy and obvious to our youngest students. The teachers then shared that older Parker students believed in a safe world so strongly, they wanted to raise their voices and make themselves heard. They explained that those students would participate in some activities that week to exercise their right to come together and spread a message of love, kindness and safety.
With this in mind, these teachers decided that the JK and SK would do the same and set to work making signs to share their messages. Most of the children focused on the ideas of “Equal Rights for Everyone,” “We Deserve a Safe World” and “Women Can Do Anything.” On the morning before the walkout, these five- and six-year olds marched throughout the school, using their signs and empowering chants to express themselves as active citizens—inspiring their older peers for the events the next day.
On the morning of the walkout, a special Morning Ex assembly for students in 5th–8th grades took place, featuring history teachers Andy Bigelow and Anthony Shaker educating all in attendance on the history of the 2nd Amendment. The teachers spoke to its origins, the nuanced ways different people interpret the amendment and how those interpretations influence differing approaches to addressing the problem of gun violence.
Upper School students and faculty then joined their younger peers in the Heller Auditorium. Middle and Upper School student leaders thanked those who helped and gave space for their plans for the day and shared a student-produced film. Principal Dan Frank then addressed the assembly, stressing his pride in the students’ efforts and encouraging them to make change happen as active citizens.
Walkout activities commenced shortly thereafter. As 5th–8th graders reported to the field with protest signs in their hands and hunter orange caps on their heads, their Upper School counterparts assembled in Circle Drive before marching to the Lincoln Park Conservatory to observe a moment of silence, joined by 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith.
At 10 a.m., the Upper School student crowd fell silent as student leaders read two names per minute—the name of a victim of the Parkland tragedy and the name of a victim of gun violence, who was younger than 18, in Chicago since January 1. Alderman Smith applauded the students’ efforts and provided additional suggestions for pushing for changes in gun laws.
As Upper School students began marching south down Lincoln Park West to the park just behind the Chicago History Museum for speeches, poetry, songs and protest, younger students were doing the same just a few blocks away—circling Parker’s campus, using their voices and exercising their rights as democratic citizens. The neighborhood heard their boisterous voices as they chanted phrases like, “We want change” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Guns in Schools have got to go.”
Upper School students returned to campus for lunch before participating in a series of breakout activity sessions developed and led by their peers. Session topics included writing letters to families of shooting victims and elected representatives, setting up phone banks for calling elected representatives and attending a more in-depth teach-in on the 2nd Amendment and current state of gun legislation or a teach-in on the history of school shootings.
Following these breakout sessions, Upper School students gathered once again in the Heller Auditorium for a closing assembly with Colleen Daily, executive director of the Illinois Council for Handgun Violence. Daily spoke about her connection to Lincoln Park and her personal history with gun violence, as well as the work her organization toils with every day and the dynamic power of the student voice. She also shared a number of action items for those interested in supporting this cause beyond that day’s activities.
These educational experiences, provided for and developed by interested students, align with Parker’s progressive educational philosophy and remain an integral part of the school’s effort to “educate students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a democratic society and global community.”

For more photos from this community effort, click here.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.