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Eastside students walk out
More than 150 students participate in Wednesday's 17-minute demonstration
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The organizers of the Eastside walkout, also known as the Eastside Walkout Team, is made up of Seniors (from left) Sara Hammonds, Sonny Vargas, Dory Berry and Jackson Gann. - photo by Staff Report

COVINGTON, Ga. – More than 150 students walked out of Eastside High School for 17 minutes Wednesday morning as part of a national  movement in honor of the 17 students who lost their life Feb. 14 in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

The walkout was organized by four Eastside seniors Jackson Gann, Dory Berry, Sara Hammonds and Sonny Vargas, who call themselves the Eastside High School Walkout Team.

“The Eastside walkout went great,” Gann said. “We were ready to go on time and finished exactly at 10:17 a.m. We had a larger group than we were estimating we would have, as we believe about 150 to 200 students were out there with us on the bus ramp.

“It was a bit cold Wednesday morning, so we think that kind of thinned our crowd out a little bit, but we know that we had a much more dedicated group of students than had it been a more comfortable setting.”

Gann said the organizers received a lot of praise from their fellow students.

“We were told by many classmates that although they didn’t walkout, after seeing videos on Snapchat and hearing people talk about it, they wished they had been a part of it,” he said.

Although the student feedback has been mostly positive, the organizers said they have also seen a negative response from community members.

“We knew going into this that we would receive a decent amount of mixed feedback,” Berry said. “First, we would like to say ‘thank you’ to those who have encouraged and supported us through this process so far. It truly means so much.

“To the ones who have been discouraging, rude and negative, we encourage you to think about the way you say things and why you say them. Many of the negative comments towards us mentioned us being ‘to young’ to have a voice, our education not being strong enough and how we are just student, ignorant kids. No one is ever ‘too young’ to have a voice.

“We encourage young people to realize this and take advantage of using their voices for good causes. Eastside has taught the four of us very well. We have participated in government and history classes and are certainly not clueless to the subjects.”

Berry said each of the organizers plans to further their education through college.

“The four of us did our best to stay out of any negativity, but like we said, we knew it was coming,” she said. “I think that if anything, it made us stronger and more determined to show people how much this movement means to us and that we are not going to be brought down.”

Hammonds said she was encouraged by the feedback of her peers and their participation.

“During the protest, I saw so many of my classmates fearlessly standing for something that they believe in,” she said. “Being so involved in this process and witnessing over 100 of my classmates come together was an unforgettable experience and serves as a reminder of why we must keep going. While discouragers will do their best to wipe out our determination, this is not the last step for us. We will continue to fight and we are planning our next steps right now, including drafting letters to and meeting with our local representatives, encouraging our classmates to register to vote as well as attending the March for our Lives event on the 24th.”

Vargas said this is just the beginning of this national movement.

“This wasn’t just a one-day event, it’s only the beginning of a revolution,” he said. “Our country is so divided at the moment, but seeing schools from all over the country walk out together is really powerful. It’s beautiful to see the future generation stand up for what’s right and just the impact it can create.”

"The district neither endorses nor supports walkouts," Newton County School System Director of Public Relations Sherri Davis said. "In situations like yesterday, it is our job to keep the students safe. There were student-led events reported at Alcovy High School, Eastside High School, Newton High School, and the Newton College & Career Academy yesterday. Overall, approximately 500 high school students district-wide participated. Students participating in the walkouts received an unexcused absence for the time missed. The events were peaceful with no incidents reported."

Media was not allowed on campus during the walkout.