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Students At Tierra Adentro Organize Schoolwide Walkout

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Tierra Adentro students hold signs and stand in silence along Rio Grande Boulevard on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

All around the United States, students filed out of their classrooms on Wednesday, March 14, to stand for school safety. It’s been a month since the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

In New Mexico, school administrations had mixed reactions to the planned walkouts. Over the last couple of weeks, KUNM followed the students at an arts charter school in Albuquerque, as they organized with the support of school staff.

Students settled cross-legged on the floor of Tierra Adentro’s main dance studio at an assembly to hear about why there was going to be protest. The charter school focuses on flamenco dance and music, visual arts, cultural preservation and the Spanish language. Students there share the same concerns as students everywhere.

Sage Walstrom is the high school student body president. "All of us in here have grown up in an era where school shootings and mass shootings just happen," she said. "And it’s kind of like, we just deal with it."

The presenters at the assembly talked about the activism of the Parkland students, how they took action and didn’t let the conversation about guns get swept under the rug. "The reality is that our school could have just been as easily shot up as Parkland could have," Walstrom said. "Like we are no different than they are. We’re just high school kids going to school, doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re in the same exact scenario that they are."

Walstrom said the students in Florida refused to be patronized and are making an impact.

A few days after the assembly, middle and high school students at Tierra Adentro New Mexico—sometimes called TANM—put marker to poster board in preparation for the walkout. A voice came in over the intercom. "Good morning, TANM. Please excuse the interruption. We are having a sign-making session. If you would like to start your sign or finish your sign for the walkout, please come to room 11."

Credit Marisa Demarco / KUNM

Not all schools offered this kind of opportunity. Some students were discouraged and told they’d get unexcused absences or F’s on classwork.

But TANM students brainstormed ideas for slogans as a group and listed them on a large piece of paper. They were given free reign. They just had to keep the language appropriate and write the letters large enough so that people could see them at a distance.

Teacher Dwenna Nelson said they weren’t looking for students to express any particular opinion. "We didn’t want to marginalize anybody," she said.

Credit Marisa Demarco / KUNM

But they did find common ground. "We all feel the same way. And we all feel that we should be able to go to school in a safe place."

Nelson remembered a morning a couple of weeks ago after someone made a direct threat against the school on Snapchat. Half of the student body didn’t show up for class. Albuquerque Police Department officers were stationed at the school. "I’ll admit when I kissed my kids goodbye on Monday morning, it was scary," she said.

Nelson said she didn't expect this kind of threat when she became a teacher. "So when I got into teaching 15 years ago, never did I ever think that I would be in a place right now where my life would be in danger or my students lives would be in danger," she said.

Betsabe Alvarez was working on a sign that said “Never Again” in purple and black. She’s 12 and in the sixth grade. "I know that some things can happen, but I also know that I can stay strong, and I know I can change the world, how people think," she said.

Junior Aliyah Woods said they have to fear school shooters. "When somebody comes on over the intercom, we don’t know if they’re going to say this is a lockdown or there’s an active shooter on campus. It’s nerve-wracking. We don’t know our fate."

The next day, more than 80 percent of the Tierra Adentro’s students made their way out the door, down the sidewalk, to stand along Rio Grande Boulevard. They chanted a little at first, shouting "Never again! Never again!"

Then, at 10 a.m., they all fell silent for 17 minutes, in observance of the 17 people who were killed in Florida.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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