SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Thousands of students are expected to walk out of classrooms nationwide Wednesday morning to take part in the National Student Walkout, a coordinated event aimed at bringing awareness to gun violence on school campuses.
Among those joining the 17-minute long event will be thousands from the Central Coast, including at the high school, junior high school and elementary levels.
In preparation for the event, which happens on the one-month anniversary of the deadly Parkland, Fla. school shooting, many school districts are planning activities for students.
"We wanted to create an opportunity for our junior high students and staff to participate if they wanted to," said Maggie White, Santa Maria-Bonita School District public information officer. "Each junior high is doing a little something. In some cases, they're walking around the track at the school, in a number of cases, they're having a moment of silence for the 17 victims in Florida, reading their names aloud."
White noted the walkout is being seen by the district as an educational opportunity and a "teachable moment."
"This is a lot of social studies lessons for our students," White said. "They're going to be writing to legislators, doing some artwork, creating some posters, so we're making this a purposeful and meaningful event for them."
Across the country, the National Student Walkout is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and last 17 minutes, representing the 17 students killed last month in Florida.
In Orcutt, all of the schools in the Orcutt Union School District will have a planned activity during that time.
"We want our students to be able to express their opinions in a positive and safe manner," said superintendent Dr. Deborah Blow.
Dr. Blow added the district felt compelled to organize events for the students, giving them an outlet where their feelings and thoughts would be expressed in a constructive and meaningful enviornment.
"We did want to take proactive approach and work together because we all can agree we want safe schools and we didn't want it to be a negative or to ignore it," Blow said. "We wanted to allow those students who wanted to take a stand to be able to do that in an appropriate manner."
Each school level will have events tailored to the appropriate grade levels.
At the district's elementary schools, students will be encouraged to treat others with extra respect.
"The students will have the opportunity in the morning to get a list of 17 acts of kindness and a school-wide recess, they can bring the list to the principal to show the 17 acts of kindness they've done," said Dr. Blow.
In the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, various activities are scheduled at Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley and Righetti high schools.
At Santa Maria High School, an assembly has been planned, which will honor the 17 Florida school shooting victims.
Pioneer Valley has an ASB-led remembrance ceremony scheduled during the walkout.
School districts have been actively in communication with parents, informing them of the plans days in advance.
"It is absolutely neutral," Dr. Blow said. "we want parents to know that if their students doesn't want to participate, there's no pressure on them at all. It's only for students that want to opt into the activity. It's not a political statement. It's neutral. It's a positive about having our schools be safe."
"This is completely voluntary amongst the students and staff," White said. "Those who don't wish to participate can go to the library, can go to the cafeteria. We'll have activities for them for the 17 minutes."
According to national reports, as many as 2,500 schools are expected to take part in the walkout.