pexels-photo-257037 (1)Thousands of students walked out of school this week for 17 minutes. Each minute was meant to represent one of the students killed in the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The protest was meant to demand stricter gun laws, but one Virginia school did not want to bring politics into a time meant to recognize the 17 lives that were ended too soon. So, they organized a small memorial and dedicated those 17 minutes to prayer instead of protest.

Greenbrier Christian Academy is located in Chesapeake, Virginia. The students at Greenbrier wanted to recognize the 17 people who were killed in Florida, but they did not want a time of reflection and grief to be tangled up with politics. “We just wanted to give our students a way to honor the victims and be a part of the national discussion,” said Danielle Gullickson, the school’s community director.  “They don’t want to be used for a political agenda but to do something to honor the people who were involved and suffered from this tragedy.”

The school built a small memorial using 17 chairs. Each chair had a photograph, a name, a white carnation and a white ribbon. When students left class during the time of reflection, they gathered together at different parts of the campus to pray.

“I think that prayer is an amazing tool; I think that prayer is part of the heart, and I think that there’s a time to mourn and to take time out of your day to respect the families,” said Greenbrier senior Jessica Ferebee. “But I also believe that faith without works is dead… there also needs to be something done to put the prayers into action.”

For Ferebee, the simple memorial the school constructed was very powerful. “Seeing those students was devastating; I saw their personalities, their smiles in the pictures, and it made it so much more real than 17 names on a piece of paper.”

Greenbrier was not the only school to alter the “Walk Out” campaign. A number of schools encouraged students to “Walk Up Not Out.” Rather than leaving school for 17 minutes, students at Arbor Preparatory High School in Michigan were told to tape positive or encouraging notes on each other’s lockers. Similarly, a teacher at Arcadia Middle School in Virginia suggested that students “walk up to the kid who sits alone and ask him to join your group” or “walk up to the kid who never has a voluntary partner and offer to be hers.” Students in Jacksonville, Florida, meanwhile, wrote cards to 17 people they felt were not “usually noticed or appreciated.”

These smaller, internal movements are not as noticeable as thousands of students leaving school buildings, but they have the potential to prevent tragedy before it ever begins. As Ryan Petty, who lost his son in the Parkland shooting said, “If you really want to stop the next school shooter walk up not out.”

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