CREVE COEUR — When six friends at Parkview Middle School proposed the school participate in a nationwide school walkout for school safety and to remember the victims of a Florida high school mass shooting, they wanted students’ voices to be heard.

When it came time to address the student body about the tragedy’s impact on students as far away from Florida as Creve Coeur, the girls say they were too nervous to speak.

But their message came across Wednesday when more than 200 classmates joined thousands of students across the country to call for school safety, stronger gun control laws and, most of all, to memorialize the 17 students and staff killed at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of going to school,” said eighth-grader Ava Itschner-Beatty, one of the Parkview students who helped plan the march. “That could have been us.”

High school students throughout the area are juggling mid-term exams, SAT reviews, and in the case of Parkview’s fifth-to-eighth graders, Illinois’ annual standardized testing. But many stopped everything promptly at 10 a.m. to mark what’s billed as the National School Walkout with walkouts, hallway sit-ins, and other activities to show support for families of the victims and the students-turned-activists of the high school in Parkland, Fla.

The number 17 was a prominent feature of all of the activities, from 17-minute sit-ins and walk-outs to 17 minutes of silence or reading the names of the 17 students and staff killed at the high school on Valentine’s Day.

Students at Pekin Community High School released 17 balloons outside after a hallway walk-out. In Glasford, Illini Bluffs High School students placed 17 chairs around the flagpole outside the high school. Richwoods High School students had a 17-minute hallway sit-in and Manual Academy students used the lunch hour to write letters to the families of Florida victims.

Students at Washington Community High School signed petitions asking lawmakers to have serious conversations about school safety and classes discussed what to do in a school shooting.

Students at Dunlap, Metamora, Eureka, East Peoria, and Canton were also among the central Illinois schools that organized events.

Some school administrators were initially wary and worried about safety if students participated in the national walkout. Superintendents of Peoria Public Schools and Washington originally announced their districts wouldn’t participate in the national demonstration. But principals worked with students to plan activities.

The Catholic Diocese of Peoria’s Office of Catholic Schools barred students from participating, but suggested a variety of alternatives including prayer services and asking lawmakers to ban assault weapons.

The National School Walkout is one of a series of mostly student-organized campaigns aimed at preventing school shootings. Local students are organizing a citywide rally March 24 to coincide with a rally in Washington, D.C. Two Peoria High School students are working with educators to commemorate the 19th anniversary of Columbine on April 20.

Tougher gun control laws is a strong component of the campaigns and protests. But some local educators, as well as some students, tried to steer clear of what Richwoods principal Brett Elliott called “politicizing” the day’s activities, preferring to focus on the victim’s and school safety.

Parkview’s program and march started at 10:30 rather than 10, after students completed the PARCC exam, the annual statewide test officially known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Even if they didn’t speak during a brief ceremony before marching around the building, the six Parkview students were overjoyed that school leaders followed their suggestion.

The idea evolved in a social studies class when Itschner-Beatty mentioned it to friends.

They wrote a letter laying out plans for a 17-minute march, discussions on school safety and encouraging students to write letters to Congressional representatives to show “even children want better gun control.”

Itschner-Beatty and her friends — Caillie Smith, Kaylee Page, Morgan Tipton, Jade Novoa, and Kyler Parks — decided to have teachers sign the letter before they took it to principal, Steve Johnson.

When the teacher they were most fearful about approaching almost dropped food because she was so eager to sign, they were optimistic about asking the principal.

“We got the reaction we were hoping for,” Tipton said.

Students in fifth-grade teacher Tammy Strasser’s class held up posters with pictures of the Parkland victims as students, teachers, and staff gathered in the gym, listening to Johnson and Creve Coeur police officer Jason Helmig recognize the victims, discuss school safety and praise the six friends for taking charge.

“We’ve been talking about school safety in class,” Strasser said. “Unfortunately, the drills have changed. Before it was fire drill and tornado drills, now it’s their lives.”

The march at Parkview was optional. About 40 students of the school’s 270 students remained in the gym while other students, teachers and staff marched silently around the building.

Tipton acknowledged she had been afraid to speak to before the student body. But, she said, “I can’t believe we made our voices heard.”

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or

Tweets about #NationalWalkoutDay OR #NationalSchoolWalkout OR #PJSwalkout -RT!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");