While student walkouts were common last week at high schools across the nation, not many elementary school students participated in the National Student Walkout on March 14, the one-month anniversary of a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
But that didn’t stop 10-year-old Ellie Knott.
The fourth-grader organized a walkout at Congress Park School in Brookfield to honor the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School and to advocate for stricter gun control laws.
Knott said she cried when she heard about the Parkland shooting. Once she heard about the national walkout day, she decided that Congress Park students should take part.
She made it happen.
“I wanted to make sure that my school was safe and that [it] didn’t happen anywhere else, so I decided that I was going to organize it,” Ellie said. “I pretty much organized it on my own.”
She persuaded approximately 35 of her fellow Congress Park students, from first- through sixth-graders, to walk out of the school and stand by the flagpole near the school’s main entrance for 17 minutes. Students who walked out needed their parents to contact the school to give permission.
“I think it was very successful, since there were a lot of kids from all the grades,” Ellie said. “I thought it went really good.”
It wasn’t easy to persuade students to walk out. One initial skeptic was her older sister, Zoe, a sixth-grader. But Ellie’s persistence eventually won her over.
“At first she didn’t want to do it, but after a lot of convincing, and convincing a lot of people, she agreed that it was a good idea,” Ellie said of her sister.
Once she decided to organize a walk out, Ellie wrote up, with a little help from her father, a flier to promote it.
“Ellie drafted the text,” said Zak Knott, who is a physics teacher at Joliet Central High School. “She kind of figured what she wanted to say, and I helped with the actual typing and printing. She cut them up and distributed them before school and after school on the playgrounds.”
She also handed out the flier at recess in the week or so before the walkout.
Ellie made 16 posters for students to hold as they stood quietly just outside the main entrance. After about 15 minutes, Congress Park Principal Claudia Jimenez led the students on a walk to the other side of the school and back.
“I think it was really nice of her to help us and help us prove our point about getting a safer school,” Ellie said of Jimenez.
Only three other students in Ellie’s fourth-grade class participated in the walkout.
“A lot of them were scared to do it,” Knott said. “I think they thought they might get in trouble or it was wrong.”
She tried to counter that fear by including in her flier a question: “Is it really OK for me to participate?”
To answer that question, the flier quoted excerpts from a letter that District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher had sent to parents, saying that the district would not infringe upon the rights of students.
Ellie’s parents are activists. Her mother, Molly Knott, who teaches another fourth-grade class at Congress Park, leads a social justice story hour once a month at the Brookfield Public Library.
Last year Molly Knott marched in Women’s March in Washington, D.C., while Zak Knott took Ellie and Zoe to the Chicago march. Molly Knott played no role in organizing the walkout, but watched Ellie’s actions as a proud mom.
“She was really proud of me and she thought it was great that I wanted to make a change,” said Ellie Knott.
This was not the first event at Congress Park that Ellie has organized. Last year she organized a crazy hair day and a clean-up day.
“I know this is something that she really feels strongly about,” Zak Knott said. “She’s developing some skills that are going to be useful no matter what she decides to do later in life. It’s good to be able to organize and to work with people.”