Ontario, Nyssa, Vale high schools handle National School Walkout in differing manners

Vale High School students listened Wednesday to fellow students and teachers read letters on why losing a loved one would be so devastating. (The Enterprise/John L. Braese)

Students at three high schools in Malheur County on Thursday took part in the National School Walkout in differing ways, paying their respects to 17 people killed in Florida last month not by walking out but in ceremony, speech and silence.

At Vale High School, students gathered in the gym to thank those in their life and make an effort to reach out to others.

“This is the most important assembly of the year,” announced Sam McLaughlin, student body president.

The Vikings observed 17 seconds of silence in memory of the students and others killed in Parkland, Florida. Then 17 students and teachers stepped behind a partition to read letters.

The “I don’t want to lose you” letters were written by parents, friends, siblings and students. Read anonymously, the letters were many times interrupted by moments of crying or by the reader pausing to regain his or her composure.

The readers then returned to the assembly, all linked hand by hand.

Students were then urged to reach out to 17 people they typically do not associate with and get to know them.

“When we heard of the nationwide walkout planned for today, we decided to go a different direction,” said Principal Mary Jo Sharp. “We wanted to be more proactive in coming together.”

At Nyssa High School, Principal Malcom McRae said 50 students left their classrooms to gather in the gym, the place designated by school administrators for the event

“The group observed a moment of silence and five students spoke, one reading the names of those killed in Florida,” McRae said. “A few in the group cried, but it was all very respectful and handled well by the students.”

McRae said the school wanted to provide students an opportunity to say their piece and provide a safe place for them to gather.

“This was not civil disobedience, but students showing respect,” he said. “The students participating were super.”

At Ontario High School, students and teachers packed the gym for an assembly to mark the national event.

Principal Jodi Elizondo urged them to watch out for each other and “if you see something say something,” alluding to the need to report suspected threats.

The students sat quietly in the bleachers and listened as Elizondo, the lone speaker, told them to look out for each other.

Elizondo said the assembly was a way to recognize the Florida tragedy without disrupting learning.

“We wanted to set them up for success. Let them know we support them,” said Elizondo.

At the end of the assembly, students approached a volleyball net stretched across the gym floor, tying on a yellow streamer a way to acknowledge the Florida shooting and as symbol that the high school is a community where everyone must have each other’s back.

Elizondo said students today face different challenges fitting in then the generations before them.

“We struggle to understand that they don’t feel they belong because they are isolated by social media,” said Elizondo.

Ontario High School Principal Jodi Elizondo talks to a packed crowd of students Wednesday morning in the school gym. Elizondo urged students to be alert and to look out for each other. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

Vale High School student body president Sam McLaughlin started the assembly announcing “this is the most important assembly of the year.” (The Enterprise/John L. Braese)

An Ontario High School student ties a streamer to the net stretched across the gym floor during an assembly Wednesday morning. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)