“We call BS! We call BS!” Chanting these words inspired by a line from a gun-control speech by Parkland shooting survivor Emma González, Manhattan Country School’s Upper School students walked out of school Wednesday morning. The demonstration, spearheaded by the MCS Student Council, was part of the National School Walkout, which marked the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed. Donning orange and carrying orange signs with slogans urging an end to gun violence, the students made their way west on West 85th Street to Broadway. Along the way, passersby offered words of encouragement and thanks.
Once on Broadway, the students assembled into two lines, one on each side of the sidewalk for 17 minutes of silence. At one-minute intervals, the silence was broken as the students called out the name of one of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. After all of the names had been read, the group assembled into a line and headed back to MCS, chanting “Enough Is Enough” along the way.
The next day, members of the Student Council gathered to shared their thoughts about the event they organized. “I was proud of our Upper School,” said Gabriela M. ’19. “We got people’s attention even though we were standing in silence,” offered Daisy D. ’20. Leonardo P. ’19 added, “It felt really empowering to go out as students to protest about something that really mattered.”
Upper School Director Maiya Jackson noted that planning the walkout provided a more meaningful leadership opportunity for the Student Council, a group that in the past has coordinated activities like Spirit Week and school dances. She said she looks forward to seeing them continue to grow as activists and organizers.
A Focus on Peace in the Lower School
MCS’ students in the 4-5s through 9-10s also participated in the walkout by gathering in a nearby park to reflect on the importance of peace. On the way to the park, the children spotted several other schools also participating in the walkout. Once the group arrived at its destination, the students assembled in two circles—4-5 through 6-7s on the inside and the 7-8s through 9-10s in the outer circle.
Lower School Director Mary Trowbridge opened the gathering with the following remark: “Right now, on this morning of March 14, children and grown-ups all around the United States—even the world—are walking out of their schools together to show they believe that we all should live in a world that is safer and more peaceful.”
With the help of four class reps—Nadia J. ’23, Malcolm M. ’22, Theo B. ’23 and Edward W. ’22—Mary shared the story of how MCS held a similar observance in 1970.* On that occasion, the school community declared May 8, 1970 “a celebration of life and peace.” The written declaration concluded with the following statement: “We support the outcries of our youth and ask you to share in their insistence that peace prevail.” Students and teachers spent the day in Central Park, painting a 100-yard peace mural and singing freedom songs.
At Wednesday’s observance, the class reps were asked to share their thoughts about peace. They offered the following:
Nadia: “Peace is about being together, not about fighting. Peace is love, not fighting. Peace is working to make a strong bond.”
Theo: “Peace is working toward kindness.”
Malcolm: “Peace means to be together; to not hurt others.”
Edward: “Peace is important. You and your friends play together, have a good time. That’s what peace did. With no peace none of that would happen. That’s why peace is important.
Afterward, Susan Harris, the Lower School music teacher; Jay Fung, the librarian; 4-5s Teacher Sarah Leibowits; and Chloe Morin, assistant to the Upper and Lower School directors, led the group in singing “Paz y Libertad” and “If I Had a Hammer.”
In keeping with the school’s five-decade commitment to social justice, students in both the Upper School and Lower School will continue to think about ways they can strive for a more peaceful and just world in the days, months and years ahead.
“March 14, 2018 will go into the archives of MCS as an experience of coming together, lifting up the school’s hopes for a society that rests on the building blocks of a democracy where peace, nonviolence and justice prevail,” said MCS Director Michèle Solá.
“Showcasing student leaders in the Upper School gave a chance for new influential voices, artists and organizers to emerge. Planning a symbolically important event in the Lower School included making space for input from and roles for student representatives of the oldest classes. The past month of planning has been equal parts fascinating and awe-inspiring.”
* For more information, refer to pages 147 - 150 of MCS founder Gus Trowbridge’s book, Begin with a Dream: How a Private School with a Public Mission Changed the Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in American Education.