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Walking Out In Synch

DATE: Thursday, March 15, 2018

National protest becomes teachable moment in Mount Tom Academy classroom

Chloe Roux and other Mount Tom Academy students work on their assignments.

Compared to other walkouts, this one was low key and low volume. No one gave a speech or held a placard. There was no chanting. No TV cameras. No microphones. No audience. No noise.

For 17 minutes, nine students stood quietly in a loose circle in the Holyoke Community College courtyard. But those nine represented the entire day's attendance of Mount Tom Academy, a small alternative high school at Holyoke Community College and the only program on campus meeting this week during Spring Break.  

While they did not expect to draw much attention, the students nevertheless wanted to act in synch with others from their generation who walked out of classes Wednesday at 10 a.m. to protest gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  

In the morning, before they walked out, the class signed up online with The Action Network to officially put the world on notice:  

"Mount Tom Academy Stands with Parkland."  

"I don't think us walking out is really going to change anything," said Tattianna Bilodeau, 17, of Southampton, "but I think it was important for us to do."  

Mount Tom Academy coordinator Barbara Cheney decided to incorporate the walkout and the reasons behind it into the day's lesson plan.  

She started with a poll to gauge interest. Six said, "I'm down with walkout." Three were "not sure," but in the end, everyone decided to participate.  

Chloe Roux, for one, said she was glad she did.  

"It made it more real," said the 17-year-old Belchertown resident.  

The students read and analyzed a Feb. 18 New York Times article about student protests, "A 'Mass Shooting Generation' Cries Out for Change." They discussed "what we know" about Parkland, other school shootings and gun violence, and "what we wonder ... what we want to know more about ... and what we are confused about ..."  

Later in the day they watched a documentary about the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., that killed 15 people.  

"These guys were all born after Columbine," she said, "so everyone in this room grew up with mass shootings."  

"It's weird how these things happen and we care about them for a week and then they blow over," said Sean Delson, 17, of Longmeadow. "We really need to start actually taking action, rather than just go, 'thoughts and prayers,' and people going on with their lives and letting people go on getting shot." 

"Everyone in this room," Cheney said, "you are the next voting bloc. This generation. You are going to decide who you are going to elect to be your representatives. So, although maybe nothing's going to change now, you guys are going to decide as a future voter."  

Students spent the rest of the day immersed in the material, writing essays and letters to elected officials.  

Even though few people may have witnessed the walkout its lessons were not lost.    

"This issue of school shootings is something I'm passionate about and I never realized it," Roux wrote in an essay. "The walkout we took part in, the article we read and the documentary we watched really moved me."  

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Thumbnail) Students from Mount Tom Academy participated in Wednesday's national walkout to protest gun violence. (Above) Chloe Roux of Belchertown and other students in Mount Tom Academy work on an assignment about gun violence.