Weather fails to deter Freeport, Yarmouth students from joining national day of protest

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FREEPORT — A nor’easter couldn’t stifle a unified cry for action on gun violence Wednesday from students in Freeport and Yarmouth.

Although school was canceled, about 50 Freeport high school and middle school students lined Main Street in front of Town Hall holding signs and chanting “Enough is enough.”

Across the street, parents and school staff lined up and replied with cheers and words of encouragement chanting, “We hear you.”

In Yarmouth, scores of high school students wearing orange beads and carrying signs arrived at school after a two-hour delay Wednesday morning and immediately filed into the school’s front parking lot at 10 a.m.

Seniors Sage Watterson, Anna Parker and Eliza Brown led the Yarmouth walkout with chants and speeches.

Parker said she thinks the walkout was a necessary way to bring attention to issues around gun violence in schools.

“I think it’s time that the government and the nation hears us and listens,” she said. “We’re the students, we’re the ones in school and it’s our safety. We want to be in charge of that.”

School districts across the state planned to join the nationwide school walkout at 10 a.m., congregating for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 lives lost last month in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Participants are demanding stricter gun control laws, including banning assault weapons and requiring universal background checks for gun sales.

Freeport High School senior and student organizer Maya Bradbury said while she does agree with the serious need for stricter gun laws, the Freeport message on Wednesday morning was broader.

“We know that our district has a lot of pro-gun people and that we want to have a message that speaks to everyone, so instead of focusing on gun legislation, we are trying to focus on spreading the word that action needs to happen,” Bradbury said. “We want that action to be decided by every student individually, whether it is pushing gun legislation or increased mental health services or more school security.”

So Bradbury and fellow FHS senior Maya Egan called on their friends and classmates to be active and aware participants in government affairs by registering to vote and calling their elected officials.

“We’re getting pretty sick of waking up to hearing that our peers are being slaughtered and nothing is being done,” Egan said.

Egan distributed voter registration cards to students during the rally. But the protest was not only for those with the legal right to vote.

Instead of crawling back into bed after hearing school was canceled Wednesday morning because of the continuing snowstorm, eighth-graders Marcello Santomenna and Ella Vertenten took to their phones and social media to spread the word of the change in location for the walkout.

“Being at the center of the school safety issue, it is important for the students to have their voices heard,” Santomenna said. “I don’t want to go to school worried for my safety because politicians value the right of a gun over my right to live.”

“A lot of middle school students don’t know how to use their voices yet,” Vertenten added. “What’s so important about this time is figuring out our own political opinions.”

Drivers honked as they drove along Main Street in Freeport, showing solidarity for the messages written on the students’ signs. Some included names and ages of students killed in Parkland and some called for action: “Thoughts and prayers don’t save lives,” and “Fear has no place in our school.”

In Yarmouth, senior Sage Watterhouse read a poem she wrote, called “Never Again”:

“Walk out for those who never did / Speak for those who will never get the chance / Stand because they can no longer ignore us / And know that our will for change is stronger than their fear of it.”

Freeport sophomore Rhea Fitzpatrick also read an original poem, “Small Towns Aren’t Safe,” which chronicles the fear and anxiety a mother feels while driving her son to school.

Regional School Unit 5 board member, Maddy Vertenten, stood across the street with her husband, Joe, holding a sign that read, “Listen 2 them.” Their daughter is Ella Vertenten.

“I know there are some people who think the middle school students couldn’t possibly be out here on their own and that they must be speaking on behalf of their parents … and that’s absolutely not true,” Vertenten said. “I’m so proud of young people today. Where I once felt despair, I now feel hope.”

Among the crowd of adults was Diane Whitmore, who teaches French and Latin at FHS.

“(These students) have grown up knowing this was a possibility,” Whitmore said. “This could be us. They’ve sent a great message today … They’re out here getting snowed on and getting the message out.”

Given the weather and school cancellations, Egan and Bradbury said they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout.

“I’m honestly amazed. I wasn’t expecting this many people to be here today and I really wasn’t expecting the middle school students to be here,” Bradbury said. “We’re really impressed.”

She added that they plan to speak with school administrators about having another school-wide walkout so that all students, even those who were snowed in, could voice their opinions. But they felt coming out Wednesday morning was important.

“This was the day that schools across the country were doing it and we didn’t want to let snow stop this from happening,” Bradbury said. “We are a new generation and it is time for our voice to be heard.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Clemente contributed to this report. Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Freeport High School senior Maya Bradbury thanks her classmates for joining her Wednesday on Main Street in a rally against gun violence. She called on them to take an active role in goverment by voting and speaking with their local and state representatives.

After a two-hour weather delay Wednesday morning, students at Yarmouth High School filed out of the school at 10 a.m. to join a nationwide walkout in protest of gun violence.

From left, Freeport eighth-grade students Katie Murray, Gus Wing, Marcello Santomenna, John Vnek, and Ella Vertenten joined high school students on Wednesday to show all voices should be heard, regardless of age.

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