LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Several schools in the Alhambra Unified School District participated in the National School Walkout against gun violence on Wednesday. Alhambra High School’s event was planned by several students from SAY or Socially Aware Youth, advised by Kristi LaPointe, a social science teacher.
The walkout involved a balloon release in honor of the Parkland, Fla. shooting victims, post-it questions that the school community was encouraged to anonymously answer and a makeshift classroom with 14 desks and three podiums representing each student or teacher who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. These student organizers spoke to the Alhambra Source about planning this event and finding their voice.
How did you guys to decide to organize for the National Walkout?
Helen Mateo: It was actually our teacher that told us that it was gonna happen. We already knew beforehand that it was gonna happen, but we actually didn’t think of doing the walkout as a big event. But she encouraged us and Allison, our president, also said it was a good idea, so we organized it like that.
Phuong Thien: Next we got permission from the head of the department and [Alhambra High School principal] Mr. Russell so they knew about it and they wouldn’t feel bombarded and we made a little presentation to them and they liked the idea.
Aishani Sellathurai: After the meeting with them, we decided to have meetings with clubs organized into one and we decided to plan out our schedule. We would have the beginning speech and then the performances and other activities.
Allison Ko: That was basically how we planned it. We appreciate all the teachers and the clubs that helped out, because really this was a really good group effort. It wasn’t just a bunch of kids. It’s really nice that the administration was really supportive of everything. I know some other schools, they suspend kids, but it was not like that at all here and we’re really grateful for that.
When did you guys hears about Parkland and how did you feel and how did that inspire you?
Daniel Flores: So in the beginning when it first popped up into the news on the day of, I thought, “Oh, that’s really terrible, what can we do about it?” I didn’t really think much of it, because I didn’t think we could do anything about it. About two weeks later, in our administrator’s class, [another student] was talking about the protest and how students were getting up and saying something about it. She showed us a video of that and I felt like there’s something that could be done, seeing that someone around our age was actually doing something about it, getting up and saying something. At that point, I felt like there’s something that could be done. And then I asked her, “Oh yeah, we have a club that does this, you could come by and see what’s up.”
Allison: I’m the president of SAY, which is Alhambra’s Socially Aware Youth. We’re a new-ish club. We kind of revived it, because it kind of died last year. So we were still in the process of defining what we wanted to do exactly, and our advisor, she’s pretty awesome. She came up with this idea and she was like, “You guys can do it.” Even though we weren’t sure such a small group of people could pull that off. That was really cool.
The first thing I thought when we heard about the shooting was “not again.” It’s not that you expect it but it’s something that doesn’t completely surprise us anymore, and that’s terrible. So many shootings have happened and nothing has been done. This walkout, this movement has been inspiring for us.
Aishani: When I first heard about the shooting at Parkland, I felt kind of sad about it. I felt like, “Wow, there’s another one,” like Allison Ko said. And I felt like we need to do something about it. We need to make a change. And the walkout was a perfect opportunity to show that us as one human race, we can help each other instead of showing so much hate, and show so much discouragement amongst us. Because that’s where all of this comes from. It comes from hatred. So I felt like with positivity and support and going to this walkout as a school was the perfect opportunity to show the world we can be supportive, we can be helpful and we are there for you.
Phuong: I thought it was really sad because it happened on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the day of love, and this is happening, and I thought the students who died could’ve been me, because they were around my age or younger. And I just didn’t think that we could do anything until our advisor really told us about this movement and how we can organize it as a whole to make it organized, but still protest peacefully. And she told us there would be no consequence if we got the administration on board. And I thought that was really great.
Helen: I first heard about the shooting on social media. And I saw what the kids at Florida did, and it was really inspiring in a way. But I also thought was kind of sad that although they tried to make a difference, it didn’t seem like the people were listening to them. And that is something that isn’t right, seeing as we’re gonna be adults one day and we’re actually gonna be able to make a difference. So by doing this, we’re actually making more people aware of what’s happening and that’s something that we should be promoting, seeing as that doesn’t really happen a lot.
What happened at the walkout? What did people talk about? How many people were there?
Helen: There was a lot of people. We didn’t know how many people were out there, but it filled up almost the entire 3rd Street. So it was pretty big. There was a lot of presentations. One was made by Tony Luna and Alyssa Martinez. They did a poem that was really inspiring.
Allison: It was really short notice for them. They wrote it in one day and they were prepared and we were all surprised.
Phuong: We also had a balloon release. We had 17 balloons, with each of the victims name on it, to symbolize the 17 victims that died on that day. During lunch, we also had on display 14 desks, which had profiles of each student who died and three podiums to stand for each of the faculty members that died. And we also had profiles on them so that students could see visually what a classroom would be like if those 14 people weren’t there and those staff members weren’t there in Florida anymore.
Aishani: Another thing we did was a post-it activity, which was mostly during lunchtime. It’s when we have these discussion questions posted around the school. One of the posters had a bunch of messages saying “we support you” [or] “we’re here for you.” So what we’re actually gonna do with that poster is send it to [the] Parkland school to show our support. I think this school did a really good job of displaying their support and love towards the victims and those who were impacted.
Allison: And I just wanted to say our display of desks and podiums, I think that was really helpful in conveying our message and a lot of people connected with that. And even me — for the profiles, we all split the job. Each person gets one or two students and you do research on them. And I was crying while I wrote the thing, cause that’s when it really connected with me, how human they are, and they could be us. So that was a big part for me for this thing.
Daniel: I want to add to that. As the people were walking through the desks. A lot of people were like, “Hey, what is this?” They were interested in it, right? And as they read them, you could see their faces changing and their mood changing, and it really connected them. So when you hear it on the news, they’re kind of just names. You don’t know who they are. But when you read about their lives, and what their friends and family had to say about it, the things they were interested in and their goals. It truly does connect you to them. This sounds like someone I know. What if this happened to them?
One of the victims had written a poem two weeks before this incident had occurred. And his poem actually talked about life. To see that he thought like that. It kind of messed with me. It’s kind of a coincidence. He’s talking about how at any moment in time a life can be taken. And that’s what happened. It’s just weird.
What do you think are the solutions to school violence and gun violence?
Aishani: We’re actually not supposed to promote political views, just cause students have different opinions and we don’t want to start riots. But anyway, if we were talking about the solutions of gun violence, like I mentioned earlier, I think we should start with a positive atmosphere. Because all these shooters, they all stem with hatred, and I think we should fix that by supporting each other. Earlier in the walkout, our advisor mentioned how we should give 17 compliments to each other or 17 smiles. Or say hi to 17 random people that you don’t know. Show each other that you are there for them. Because no one’s alone.
Allison: A big part of this, since we aren’t allowed to impose political views in school, we focused more on the emotional part of all of this, and how we’re showing support for them, and especially promoting a good school atmosphere. And one of our post-it posters, our question was “how do you feel today?” Because a lot of people, they don’t just show it. Since the post-its are anonymous, it’s a way for people to say how they really feel, and we’d see, maybe not everyone’s ok, and maybe that’s ok.
And also we did have voting booths, actually, so as students we can be active and pre-register to vote. So we had the opportunity at lunch.
Phuong: I really think that by spreading a positive atmosphere, we can help students who feel lonely and feel like they don’t belong in school, feel like they are part of the school, and this really helps. Because a lot of school shooters feel like they’re lonely, and like they don’t have anyone at school and they’re bullied, so they think that in their mindset, they don’t feel like they don’t fit in. And by helping people fit in, less school shootings may happen, because those people won’t feel as lonely as they do.
Helen: I also think a way to fix these problems is for us to be more socially aware. By doing this, more people knew what this actually meant to families and what this meant to us. Because all of us feel a certain way about the way we should fix this, but all of us should be aware of what is actually happening. And like that this is a problem, like this isn’t something you could just forget after a few days. And I think that’s what really impacted this whole thing, because I know a lot of people after the walkout still talked about it and were still saying things about it, and that’s something that should continue on.
Daniel: The days building up to this, a lot of people were like, “What is this even going to do?” I feel like a lot of people aren’t aware that they have a voice, and they could say something. And if they continue to say something, change can happen. So many people don’t know that that’s true. So I feel like if we bring it to their attention, that “hey, you have a voice,” and put it in front of them. You can do something about it. Be active. I think that’s one big step towards fixing this problem.
This interview has been edited and condensed.