The kids were terrific.
The adults could use some work.
The planned walkout at West High School Wednesday morning was orderly, respectful and energetic.
A group of nine students organized the event to coincide with other walkouts at schools across the nation, marking the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, that resulted in the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The group at West wore matching orange T-shirts, marked "#OutQuad," which refers to the walkout movement. They used step ladders and a portable sound system to make brief speeches, which produced wild applause among the 200-or-so students who joined them on the grassy field along West Locust Street.
"Change is coming, and we're going to help it along," the first speaker announced. "Change starts now."
The student then asked for a moment of silence to honor the 17 dead in Florida, along with so many others who have been victims of gun violence in schools. The applause turned instantly to silence. Despite the obvious energy in the sign-toting crowd, the only sound that could be heard was the passing of nearby cars.
At least four Davenport police squad cars also were nearby.
Another speaker talked about the reputation of Iowa and Iowans, "... corn fields, flat land, friendly people," she said. "We automatically think that (a school shooting) will never be us, right?
"On any given day, this might be us. We can't have the mindset, if it doesn't happen to us, it doesn't matter.
"Change starts here."
Unfortunately, the names of most of the student speakers were not available to those of us in the media.
We were banished to the sidewalk, which West Principal Jenni Wiepert announced moments before the walkout was, "district policy." She could have accurately added, "when it suits the district."
News coverage of basketball games, school plays, awards ceremonies and building improvements would be vastly different from sidewalks outside of public schools.
We told the principal we had been invited to the event via email, but she knew nothing about that.
"I'll be honest," she said. "I get 300 emails a day."
The West walkout was discussed at Monday's School Board meeting. Students had discussed their plans with district administrators in advance. As a result, Superintendent Art Tate sent a March 2 memo to high school and intermediate school principals outlining the district's planned response. There was to be no consequence, provided students immediately returned to class, it said.
As a courtesy, I showed up at West a half hour early and went to the front office to let administration know we were there to cover the walkout.
I was told to contact district spokesperson Dawn Saul. I called Saul, but she didn't answer her cellphone. Her voicemail was full.
In the grassy field, the students continued to deliver their messages: Be kind to one another; Listen to differing viewpoints; Let your voice be heard.
We'd been lucky to get the name of student organizer Lily Hancock, a junior, before the walkout began. She was one of the speakers.
"The walkout today is just the beginning — just the start," she said. "Become a part of the change. Change starts here. Change starts with us. Change starts with you. And change starts now."
As Hancock spoke, a man wearing a safety vest and pushing a walker stopped at the fence where I was standing.
"I hope these kids never have to go into combat," he nearly growled. "They have the wrong attitudes."
As if in response, the speakers led three chants. Two hundred young voices shouted in unison: "No fear here!" and "Enough is enough!" and "No more violence, end the silence!"
Behind us, a car horn honked, and a man flashed his middle finger toward the crowd.
But the kids were terrific.
Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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