Thousands of Seattle-area students are expected to participate in a national walkout to protest gun violence at schools. Many of the students will be doing more than merely leaving class.
“We are getting people registered to vote,” said Alek Kelly, a senior at Mt. Si High School in East King County. “We are writing letters to our legislators. We’re not just walking out and throwing a fit.”
Kelly is not in ASB and not usually one you would consider a leader, but when it comes to school safety, he’s stepping up. He’s organizing the school’s walkout and other efforts to make all schools in the Snoqualmie Valley safer for kids.
Kelly first decided to tackle the issue a couple of years ago after another school shooting and a lockdown drill at Mt. Si. Kelly didn’t feel his teacher was making student safety the priority.
“He barricaded himself in the safest corner of the classroom and told all the students to go hide under the desks,” Kelly recalled. “Had somebody gone to the window and looked inside, they would have clearly seen all the students. But, they wouldn’t have seen him.”
Kelly started thinking not just about what was wrong with the school’s response, but what he and others could do to make things better. Even though Kelly will soon be graduating, he’s worried about the next generation.
“I’m actually a math tutor and I tutor in Issaquah,” Kelly said. “For one of those students to have to go through a situation like that, to have to endure that and have it scar them for the rest of their life, let alone me showing up to work one day and one of the students not being there. That’s the reality that we’re facing.”
The Snoqualmie Valley School District is currently building a massive high school. Kelly and his classmates have talked about the new challenges that will come with the new campus. Among their concerns is that the current Mt. Si High School is a closed campus. The new campus won’t be.
“Open campus versus closed campus, that really changes the scenario of what to do during an active shooter situation,” Kelly explained. “Anybody can walk out and walk in at anytime. Say they don’t have a weapon in their backpack at the start of school, but they have it in their truck. They can walk out, get the weapon and come back.”
New gun control legislation and more focused mental health care may be part of the solution, Kelly said, but it won’t fix everything. He also doesn’t think bullying is the problem that it used to be.
“Anybody who’s rude or mean gets alienated by everyone,” Kelly said.
Schools have successfully educated kids on how to treat others with respect and how to respond if they encounter bullying, but Kelly wishes they would offer the same education where violence is concerned. He is pushing for a number of changes he thinks would make a big difference.
First, expanding active shooter education beyond the lockdown drills, so students know what to do in different scenarios. Kelly also worries they could be sitting ducks during fire drills, when the entire student body gathers on the football field.
Second, allowing student volunteers to get additional training on how to be a leader in a crisis situation. They could help others stay calm and lead them to safety, even if there are no teachers around.
Third, installing a sort of panic alarm system. Buttons throughout the campus could trigger an alarm that would notify other students to hide or run away.
When it comes to the more controversial topics, like gun control, Kelly said he’s making a conscious effort to be neutral. He doesn’t want the message to turn political because it’s not about whether you’re liberal or conservative. It’s about making sure every student feels safe in school. And, so far, the adults have failed to do that.
“It’s been 20 years and it’s still happening,” Kelly said. “You’re not doing your job to protect us.”
Several hundred students at Mt. Si are expected to leave campus at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Their demonstration will take them off campus for a short time, which Kelly says is part of their message: That kids today feel safer when they’re not at school.