Poudre School District students participate in school walk out to advocate for gun reform

Stuart Smith

Students from Poudre School District marched out of their classrooms to Old Town Square Tuesday afternoon to advocate for gun reform in the United States following the mass shooting at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14.

Once they reached the Square, the group engaged in 17 minutes of silence, one minute for each of the 17 victims in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Volunteers rotated signs with each of the victims’ pictures, names and ages and held each sign up for a minute at a time. 

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Afterwards, the organizers had everyone in the crowd try to meet 17 new people.

Students in attendance represented each high school in the Poudre School District, though most were from Poudre High School, Rocky Mountain High School and Polaris Expeditionary Learning School, where the main organizers were from. Students also travelled from Loveland and Windsor to participate.

According to Polaris student Leif Olsen, almost the entire school participated in the walkout. 

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“Everybody but like five people are here,” Olsen said. “It’s a big school movement, a lot of the teachers can’t legally be involved, but they’re in full support.”

Allie Holton, a junior at Poudre High School and an organizer of the event, said she hopes to create a movement.

“We are trying to get some sort of change so kids stop dying,” Holton said. “We’ve had our spots taken over. The movie theatre: shootings. Concerts: shootings. Schools: shootings. There’s no safe place, across the country, that we can all go. Teenagers deserve to feel safe. Teachers deserve to feel safe. Our parents deserve to be able to send their kids to school and not wonder if they’re going to come home.”

Teenagers deserve to feel safe. Teachers deserve to feel safe. Our parents deserve to be able to send their kids to school and not wonder if they’re going to come home.” Allie Holton, Poudre High School junior and Walk Out organizer

Holton marched at the front, leading participants for the more than two miles to Old Town with her megaphone.

Poudre High School Junior Aly Pillard emphasized how much of a group effort the event was.

“It was a huge team effort,” Pillard said. “Each one of us played a role, and we could not have done this without each other.”

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Pillard said she was surprised by how much the event grew.

“We originally thought it was just going to be the IB program at Poudre,” Pillard said. “And, then more and more people heard about it, and more schools contacted us, even middle schools.”

One trend she noticed in the people showing up was just that they wanted the situation to change.

“So many people have come up and said, ‘I’m done with this, this is the last straw and I’m sick of going to school and wondering if this is the last time,’” Pillard said.

In Old Town, while the main event took place, a small group of counter-protesters gathered off to the side. Nick Sanchez, one counter-protester, said that they believe the problem lies not with guns themselves, but with the people holding the guns.

About 10 other counter-protesters accompanied Sanchez, including one who held a Gadsden Flag.

Students at the march were joined by many adults, mainly parents, former teachers and at least one principal, who declined to give his name.

One of those retired teachers was Renée Forsythe, who worked for Poudre School District for 25 years.

“I know these kids, and I love them,” Forsythe said. “They have the vision and the skills to make the change that needs to be made.”

The students who organized the walkout said they have plans for the future, specifically participating in community engagement, according to Polaris Expeditionary Learning School Junior Brooke Giffin, another organizer of the event.

“We’re going to have some town halls, we’re going to have forums with senators,” Giffin said. “We’re going to get students’ voices heard, and we’re not going to stop until we change the laws.”

Collegian Assistant News Editor Stuart Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @notstuartsmith