Students across the country will walk out of class Friday on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. While that tragedy happened before most current high school students were even born, the Parkland, Florida shooting is still fresh in their minds, and students say it is time for a change.
Game Changers is a Ritenour High School student organization and social justice club formed after the events in Ferguson. The group of 30-40 students focuses on bringing unity and equity within the school, educating classmates about social issues, and mentoring students in the district's elementary and middle schools.
Hope Houston, a junior at Ritenour and vice president of Game Changers, said after the shooting in Parkland, students wanted to participate in Friday’s national walkout to show support for the students in Parkland, Columbine and all schools impacted by gun violence.
The administration at Ritenour says it is aware of the students’ plan, and parents have been informed as well. Administrators from across the district will be at the high school to provide supervision during the walkout which is expected to take about 17 minutes total.
At 10 a.m., Ritenour students will walk out of class and to the athletic field where they will listen to a student speaker and a powerful poem written by two classmates, hold a moment of silence to recognize the lives lost to gun violence, and release 17 balloons in honor of the Parkland victims.
"All of us bonding together just as youth really makes me, as a person, feel very powerful because we’re kind of taught as children that we are special, we are so powerful, and all of our young girls are told that we’re independent, and it’s no surprise that we’re rising up,” said Kayla Baker, a freshman at Ritenour and member of Game Changers.
Houston says their motivation is not to skip class, it is to empower their classmates. Students will have the opportunity to sign petitions during their lunch hours urging lawmakers to ban bump stocks and raise the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 years old.
Game Changers has also put out a "kindness challenge" at school this week.
"It’s called '#RitenourCares,' and it’s 17 challenges for the 17 victims (of the Parkland shooting)," said Houston.
Some of the challenges include: compliment 17 people, thank three adults for something that they have done to impact the student, thank three people that have impacted the student's life.
"One of our teachers here created a tee shirt that says 'Ritenour Cares' and is creating a scholarship for it," said Houston. "It will go to a student that actually really cares about Ritenour and the students and the staff members in it.”
Game Changers will also be teaching classmates how to register to vote and handing out contact information for state and local lawmakers so the students may contact lawmakers with their concerns.
Hundreds of students across St. Louis are preparing to take part in a national walkout to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.