RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Students in schools across Central Virginia joined in the National School Walkout Day on Wednesday, a month after 17 students were killed at a high school shooting in Florida.
"(This walkout) meant the start of something beautiful. It meant the start of change that we want to see. It meant the change of the unsafeness of our school where we're starting now," said Emmaline Clark, a Community High School student who helped organize the walkout.
NBC12 had crews at schools across the region as the walkouts occurred at 10 a.m.:
CITY OF RICHMOND
More than 100 students gathered on the front steps of Community High School in Richmond's Northside, holding signs and standing in solidarity with thousands of other students across the nation.
Students held signs that read "We want change" and "We call BS." Other posters displayed pictures of the 17 victims, as students read a tribute to each, followed by a moment of silence.
Students ended the demonstration by reciting a pledge that they wrote, promising to do their best to keep a safe school environment and report any possible threats. The last line of that pledge read "I will understand that peace begins with me."
Students said that they are not going to just move on, but rather push for the change they demand until they get it.
"(This walkout) meant the start of something beautiful. It meant the start of change that we want to see. It meant the change of the unsafeness of our school where we're starting now," said Emmaline Clark, a Community High student who helped organize the walkout.
"It's starting here. If the adults won't do something about this, we will."
The students also passed out flyers with names of legislators to contact, petitions to sign, and other actions they can take.
In Chesterfield County, middle and high school students held moments of silence, memorials for the 17 victims in Parkland, FL and spoke about taking action to put an end to gun violence in schools.
"It's going to take us having to step up and take these positions, for this to change," said Maeve Hall, a student at Monacan High School.
More than 300 students participated in the school walkout at Monacan. Student leaders say they worked closely with the administration to plan their 17 minutes of unity and to ensure all students were safe.
"The fact that it comes to the point where students are really having to take matters into their own hands only further demonstrates that the issues have continued to escalate and that it's gotten to the point where we have decided that action needs to be taken in earnest, instead of just discussion about action," explained Andriana Taratsas. "From here, I think it's deciding how we can take that unity and turn it into a plan that is a good compromise."
Taratsas says the walkout symbolizes that the movement they represent is a bi-partisan issue, one they hope lawmakers will listen and pay attention to.
"It's not going to end after this day," said Meaghan Payne. "We have to keep pushing on and going to our senators and our representatives to hopefully push movement in Congress to hopefully get laws passed that protect students and teachers so that we can feel more safe."
The students say they are encouraging their peers to get involved and plan to have a voter registration later in the spring and continue conversations about school safety.
"[It's about] just keeping people informed and caring about any issue really," said Julia Lain. "That was a lot of what this march was for is saying, 'Hey, you have a vote, please be aware of what's going on."
They hope to keep the momentum going and say they feel a sense of empowerment as they move forward in their work.
"The fact that a month out, people are still taking the time to get involved with this walkout, shows it's something that's not just going to go away," said Taratsas.
Hanover school officials said that less than 10 percent of the students took part.
"While students who participated in today's demonstration were marked unexcused from class, no formal disciplinary action was taken," school officials said. "We are appreciative that students conducted themselves in a peaceful and orderly manner and returned to class immediately afterwards without further disruption to the instructional day. "
CITY OF PETERSBURG
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