HUNTLEY – Huntley High School senior Matthew Jensen said he doesn’t want his two little brothers to fear for their safety while at school.
“I’ve seen a few happen in my lifetime, like at Sandy Hook and Parkland, and it’s an awful thing to see on the news,” Jensen said of deadly school shootings. “I never want something like that to happen to my community, and we all fear that.”
Jensen, along with students across the U.S. and McHenry County, participated in 17-minute walkouts at 10 a.m. Wednesday, one minute for each of the students and staff members killed one month before at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Students from Huntley High School, Community High School District 155 and Woodstock School District 200 were among those who gathered outside Wednesday morning. Marengo, Dundee-Crown and Jacobs high school students organized demonstrations inside their schools.
At Woodstock North High School, 17 empty desks were lined up outside the main entrance with the names and ages of each victim written on the chairs, District 200 director of communications Kevin Lyons said.
Students read poems, eulogized the victims and talked about how to register to vote at Woodstock High School.
Marengo High School students hosted a “walk-up” instead of joining the national walkout protesting gun violence. District 154 Superintendent David Englebrecht said the walk-up focused on anti-bullying and creating friendships, using the period as a chance to walk up to students they might not normally talk to and introduce themselves.
“Their conversations were about friendships, anti-bullying, creating safe spaces and how to make positive relationships with one another,” Englebrecht said.
Students signed a banner that said “support a safe, kind school” and were given orange ribbons to put on their lockers, as well as lapels to wear.
Instead, Marengo senior Amanda Marlewski stayed inside her classroom and passed out black ribbons with “17” written in white to mourn the victims from Stoneman Douglas.
“With Marengo, everybody tries to stay out of politics until we are put in a situation,” Marlewski said.
“We have civics class, where we are separated into Democrats and Republicans, and I know my fellow Republicans want our current laws enforced, but we don’t want anything to take away our right to have guns.”
About 250 students from each District 155 school and a handful from Haber Oaks Campus participated in a walkout, District 155 communications director Shannon Podzimek said. The demonstration was peaceful, and the district had no problems with students returning to class.
Prairie Ridge High School senior Katarina Schaffer said she felt as if Wednesday’s protest signified a new generation stepping up for change.
“Our generation is using our resources and doing everything we can to say ‘enough.’ Especially with social media, it’s easier to put our 2 cents in,” Schaffer said. “I really think we can make a change with our new voices.”
Dundee-Crown and Jacobs high school students linked arms with faculty, staff and local police and firefighters in silence while the names and ages of school shooting victims dating back to 1998 were read over the intercom. Students also signed banners and petitions requesting that legislators take a stand against school violence, District 300 spokesman Anthony McGinn said.
District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said students would face disciplinary action for leaving any school buildings to protest.
“I would like to commend our student leadership groups and our student body for peacefully engaging in this process, and exercising their voices in order to support school safety and establishing a better school climate for all,” Heid said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.