As thousands of students across the nation walked out of classrooms this morning to call for an end to gun violence, children from Carolina Friends Durham Early School came up with their own way to make their voices heard.
A group of twenty-one kids traveled to Durham’s City Hall and met with a city council official to present a "Rights of Children" document that listed freedoms they believed every child around the world deserves.
Some of the three-to-six-year-olds held posters with hearts and peace signs, while city council member Javiera Caballero read over their list and promised to share it with Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
The freedoms included the rights to have love, music, and friends, and the rights to play and be silly. Other rights listed in the document are only things that the imaginations of young minds would come up with: the right to a car with windows so they don’t get too hot, the freedom to have pictures of when they were a little kid, and the ability to pick apples and eat them.
School leaders and parents all over North Carolina are grappling with how much they should reveal to their students about last month’s Parkland shooting and other recent tragedies, and what the appropriate age is to participate in demonstrations connected to the National School Walkout.
The kids at Carolina Friends weren’t told about the specifics behind today’s walkouts. However, their teachers did explain that they would be joining many other students around the country who are telling adults that they deserve to feel safe and comfortable at school.
Hannah Branigan, whose daughter is enrolled in Durham Early School, says she’s glad her daughter is learning to get involved in the political process at an early age.
“I think it makes it a normal and expected part of being a good citizen,” Branigan says. ‘You’re participating. Otherwise, you end up just being carried along passively, almost feeling powerless. And there are a lot of things that even when you are very small, and even though you can’t vote, we can still do to make our voices heard.”
For the children at Carolina Friends, engaging with local representatives isn’t all that out of the ordinary. The children take field trips to Durham every week where they can act as global citizens and advocate for causes that are meaningful to them. That's partly driven by the school's curriculum, which especially encourages peaceful communication, embracing diversity, and thinking critically.
Carmen Raynor, a teacher who helped arrange the meeting with city officials, says her students have offered insight that adults cannot provide.
“For us as teachers, we were in awe with their comments and their innate wisdom, their sense of fairness, and that this is about all children,” Raynor says. “They have so much to say and so much important information about the world that they really are our teachers. It was a great reminder about the powerful voice of children and why it is important to listen to them, but also to make space for them and to get out of their way.”