When Teryn Tominaga and her Waiakea Intermediate School peers began organizing for National Walkout Day, she said they hoped maybe 40 or 50 of their classmates would participate.
And yet when the time came Wednesday morning to leave class and head to the school entrance to wave signs along Puainako Street, between 80 and 100 students joined in.
Many brought signs with statements such as “Fear has no place in our school” and “Stop gun violence” as cars passing by honked in support.
“It was really cool,” Teryn, 13, told the Tribune-Herald. “At first, we went out and I didn’t see anybody. But then, people started streaming out from the buildings, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was just really cool how many people supported this. It felt like we were doing something bigger than we’ve ever done before.”
Students at Waiakea Intermediate joined their peers throughout East Hawaii and the rest of the country Wednesday to participate in the nationwide protest against gun violence. The event took place on the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The protest was championed under the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER organization. It took different forms at each school. Many walkouts began at 10 a.m., the designated start time across all time zones. Many also lasted 17 minutes, to honor the 17 people who died in the Florida massacre.
Participation was voluntary, but the state Department of Education advised schools in a letter earlier this month to create a designated “walkout area” for students wanting to participate.
The DOE said it “supports students’ constitutional rights to a peaceful assembly and free expression” but added “disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations” would not be acceptable, and students who left campus during the event would be marked with an unexcused tardiness or absence.
It was unclear Wednesday if any students were disciplined, but at least two East Hawaii schools — Waiakea Intermediate and Pahoa High and Intermediate School experienced students walking out at a different time than school administrators planned.
At Waiakea Intermediate, students were reportedly instructed to walk out at 10:20 a.m. — during a recess period — but many instead opted to walk out at 10 a.m. to correspond with their peers nationally.
One Waiakea Intermediate parent, Regina Rose, told the Tribune-Herald her daughter wanted to walk out at 10 a.m. but was not allowed by her teacher to leave the classroom.
At Pahoa, students were reportedly instructed to walk out at 10 a.m. if they chose to participate because it fell during a break period. However, many students instead opted to walk out an hour later during actual class time. They circulated word of their plan to walk out at 11 a.m. via social media.
“We have recess at 10 a.m., so it wouldn’t have made as big of an impact,” senior Celest Eugenio, who is Pahoa’s student body president, told the Tribune-Herald. “It wouldn’t really be a walkout if we were already out of class.”
About 100 Pahoa students participated in the second walkout. About 25 students reportedly took part in the earlier one.
“My favorite part was seeing all the students come together and show their support for the Florida shooting (victims),” said Pahoa seventh-grader Rubi Estrella, who participated in the first walkout and held a sign that read “#EnoughIsEnough.”
“While I was walking down, a couple girls next to me were complaining because it was raining,” she added. “And I told them, ‘What would you rather do? Get wet or not live?’ And they decided they’d rather stand in the rain.”
School violence “affects us because even if we haven’t had an actual gun threat, we did have (a threat recently made) on social media where someone posted about shooting at our school,” Eugenio said. “Practically half our school didn’t attend that day, so everyone was pretty scared … (Pahoa) is a small school … we just want to inform everyone here about these issues.”
At Hilo High School, about 50 students gathered in the campus plaza during lunch recess. Many wore orange ribbons on their wrists, a color said to represent gun violence prevention.
The rally included an opportunity for students to read aloud letters they wrote about school safety and gun violence.
“Why do we students have to go to school and fear for our safety?” one student read aloud from his letter addressed to Gov. David Ige. “… A place where we are required to go by law and where we are promised safety and education. Why do I have to wake up and dread going to school because some kid can walk into school with a gun in his bag and start unloading on unprotected children?”
In all, at least 200 students wrote letters, according to Hilo High junior Lucy Ramirez, who helped organize the Hilo High rally.
“At our school, most of the students feel pretty safe,” Ramirez said. “We have a lot of security guards, and most of the staff is pretty good about going around and talking to us. … We just hope to raise awareness about what is happening, and hopefully it doesn’t happen to us. We want to just get students really motivated to fight gun violence.”
At Waiakea High School, hundreds of students flooded the campus quad at the designated walkout time for a short ceremony led by student government leaders. Many students wrote on paper butterflies their “goal” to make others feel more included.
The Waiakea event also included reading aloud the names of the Parkland victims, along with a moment of silence.
After the ceremony, students had an opportunity to sign their names on a banner that read, “I take a stand against school violence.”
“I was actually tearing up a little,” said Waiakea High’s student body president Leira Joyce Vea after the event. “I was trying to hold it together. Almost all the sidewalks were filled. It was just really amazing to see our school come together.”
Email Kirsten Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.