SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Dozens of students at area school districts participated in Wednesday's national school walkout in response to the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Fla.
A group called the Action Network, which also helped organize women's narchers across the country, listed several schools in Bladen, Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties as having different demonstrations.
The nationwide protests started at 10 a.m. and lasted approximately 17 minutes, one minute for each victim killed in the Parkland, Fla., shooting. The purpose of the protests, according to organizers, was to highlight "Congress' inaction against the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods."
It was a somber scene at Brunswick County Early College High School as 50-70 students gathered outside the school and stood silently. Some were holding signs saying "How many more children have to die?" and "When did schools stop being a sanctuary?"
There was also a planned walkout at South Brunswick High School.
Students at Hoggard High School filled the school's courtyard holding signs for stricter gun control laws and chanting and calling for change. The students then stood in silence for 17 seconds.
Kaylyn Koone, one of the walkout organizers at Hoggard, says she was surprised by the response from her peers.
"It went better than I could've ever imagined. At the end, I was crying. I did not expect everything to go so smoothly and everyone to be so respective and cordial. It was absolutely amazing," Koone said.
Students poured out of New Hanover High School and gathered at the steps just outside the school. Four freshmen helped organize the walkout at New Hanover and read the names of the Parkland victims and urged people to take action. Even if they're too young to vote, they said you can speak up by contacting your congressman. The students then chanted, "We want change."
The organizers were four freshmen who said they didn't hear of a walkout organized at their school, so they took it upon themselves to organize one.
"We wanted to empower the students to do everything they can to make a change because we need change now," Starr Holcombe, an organizer, said.
During an interview with WECT, Frank Meares, a candidate for the New Hanover County Board of Education, stressed the need to listen to the concerns of students, school employees and their families.
"You have parents, teachers, administrators and students who don't feel like they're being heard," Meares said. "And if they don't feel like they're being heard, they don't feel like they have a voice, then why would they care about their school or what is going on? Our key job as public officials is to be the voice of the people. We are to listen and to hear them and to then bring their issues forward."
Two other candidates for the New Hanover County Board of Education sent in statements about the walkout.
"The students participating in the National School Walkout in New Hanover County and across the nation, are standing up for their right to live, breathe, and be educated in a safe environment," said candidate Stefanie Adams said in a statement. "I applaud their efforts and couldn't be more proud as they raise their voices and say "This must stop!" I believe today's event is a sign of things to come, and it is our responsibility as parents, educators, and community leaders, to support and listen to these courageous young people. They are our next generation of leaders; our New Hanover Schools should be supporting their growth by providing an environment conducive to learning that is safe physically, mentally, and emotionally. School safety is a cornerstone of my campaign platform, and I promise to listen, collaborate, and advocate to all stakeholders to protect our children! You often hear that 'children are our future;' today, I feel hopeful, because our future is extremely bright!"
"As a former police officer and current educator I have a unique perspective on this issue," candidate Nelson Beaulieu said. "What these students are doing is important for two reasons. First, they are doing what we so often criticize them for not doing by standing up and making their voices heard. They are participating in the process and that alone is commendable. But they are also helping us change the way we think about this issue. We can't prevent these tragedies after the bullets start flying. Our best chance at stopping mass shooters is in kindergarten and first grade through programs of restorative justice and anti-bullying. I for one am proud of their efforts and I share in their collective sorrow and empathy for the victims and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
At UNCW, hundreds of students gathered around the university's clock tower as officials rang the tower's bell 17 times to honor the Parkland victims.
About 10 students at CFCC also participated in the walkout.
The group sat on the ground outside of the student union and discussed gun violence and school safety in the United States.
Stacey Torress, a student at CFCC, said the group, some of whom had young students, wanted more people to know this is not just an issue for high school students.
"This should affect people to the point where they demand a change," said Torres. "It's not just for the safety of people they know personally, but for the community as a whole. We do not thrive off of individuality. It is not just a selfish world."
New Hanover County Schools is also working to help kids voice their concerns as an alternative to the planned walkout by launching two new initiatives.
The first is an anti-violence campaign call My 17. Though My 17, NHCS high school students had the opportunity to speak about bullying, harassment, school violence, and school safety. Twenty minutes of the school day was devoted to those topics on Wednesday. Students are also invited to write an essay, create a poster, poem or song. Winning entries will be featured on the NHCS website.
A second initiative called See Something, Say Something, is designed to build awareness about dangerous activities that may be shared in person or on social media. It's designed to empower students on how to recognize inappropriate conduct by peers and adults, and encourage students to report inappropriate behavior.