Begbie View Elementary students took to the streets Wednesday to take part in a silent protest for numerous causes.
Approximately 100 students between grades five and seven made the vow of silence, marching down MacKenzie Ave. around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 6.
The students carried signs and handed out pamphlets to raise awareness on causes of their choice as they made their march through downtown.
Teacher-librarian Eleanor Wilson, who organized the demonstration, says the march offers an opportunity for students to dive deeper into current events through topics that matter to them.
“These are intermediate students and they are becoming more and more engaged in current events, and they know things,” says Wilson. “Even though we don’t want them to know some of these terrible things, they do, and they care.”
“I think it’s a good experience—we’ve left our little school world and we’ve gone downtown where we’re part of our community, and we are trying to engage with them. It’s a very peaceful and respectful process.”
Through deafening silence, the students were impossible to ignore, as the large group trailed their brightly coloured ‘Vow of Silence 2018’ banner down the sidewalk, creating a spectacle for pedestrians on the avenue.
Protest topics varied, ranging from littering, to climate change, to the endangerment of animals, such as gorillas and snow leopards.
The march began at Begbie View Elementary school with the destination of Grizzly Plaza, a distance of around two kilometers round trip.
Students were able to signify their individual protests with poster board and paper pamphlets as they marched silently from the southwest end of MacKenzie Ave. and into Grizzly Plaza. Some students also chose to place tape over their mouths during the protest.
The demonstration is part of the ‘ME to WE’ program, which aims to inspire students to make changes at home to benefit larger causes.
Wilson says the decision to allow students to choose their own topics creates an opportunity to explore current events that directly matter to each individual. In the long term, she hopes students will continue to engage with their topics.
“If they can find something that they truly care about and they become educated about it so they can inform other people and hopefully invite activism, like ‘what can we do?’—that’s the long term goal,” explains Wilson. “That would be wonderful, if they left here with something they all care about and are knowledgeable about.”
Wednesday’s silent protest came three months after 40 Begbie View Elementary students organized a walk-out on March 16 in solidarity with gun violence protests taking place in the United States of America.
School district 19 teacher Sarah Newton, who helped organize March’s walk-out protest, says she has seen that students are eager to be involved in larger conversations.
“I find the kids are always very very attuned to what’s going on in the world, and they often don’t say anything because they see this cognitive dissonance between what’s going on in the bigger world outside and what is discussed in school,” says Newton.
Wilson says the march, which the school began carrying out annually three years ago, has become an event that students now look forward to participating in.
“Throughout the year they’ll be like ‘when is Vow of Silence?’ It’s on their radar,” says Wilson. “Today I was looking at them at Grizzly Plaza, and they were all silent. And when I read some of their facts they put together and read such a variety of things they care about, it really made me just appreciate their engagement. They care, and I think it’s a nice way to exercise their voice —through silence.”