Roughly 150 Oak Park and River Forest High School students peacefully walked out of classes on Sept. 20, joining millions of students around the world for what’s being billed a Global Climate Strike.
The demonstration started at around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, with students exiting the school on Scoville Avenue, marching to the Ridgeland Avenue Green Line station and taking the train to Grant Park in Chicago, where a much larger demonstration was held at 11 a.m.
The student demonstrators interviewed on Friday morning all expressed alarm about the planet’s future. Many students reinforced their concerns with lessons they’ve learned in school. For them, climate change is no longer a scientific abstraction.
“I don’t want to die,” said Lucy Kallista, a 16-year-old junior at OPRF, when asked why she was participating in the march.
“We talk about this all the time,” said her friend, junior Maeve Powers, 16. The two teenagers walked down Lake Street toward the Green Line with signs claiming “Denial is deadly, Climate crisis is real — Not a liberal conspiracy!” and “We will go to school if you keep the climate cool.”
“If nothing gets done, then the world is a going to get a little too hot for humans, and animals are already dying,” Kallista said. “The Great Barrier Reef is being wiped out because of climate change. Coral is getting bleached because of the warming of the oceans. I learned that in geoscience.”
Junior Astrid Brunk, 16, walked down Lake Street with a sign that read: “This can’t wait until I finish school. Read: If you can’t act like adults we will.”
“There’s evidence that the globe is warming,” Brunk said. “It’s warmed like three degrees, which is huge. If people don’t do something right now, we won’t have time and our generation will be struggling to find resources for our children.”
On Sept. 12, District 200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams emailed a letter to families in anticipation of the planned walkout.
“To allow students to have a voice on an issue that is important to them, we will not issue disciplinary consequences for students who participate, as long as they exit the building in an orderly and peaceful manner,” Pruitt-Adams stated.
The superintendent said that teachers would not mark as absent any students present when attendance was taken Friday morning. Any student who was absent for the day or during individual periods and whose absence wasn’t called in by a parent or guardian was given an unexcused absence. School safety personnel accompanied students to the Green Line Friday morning.
District 200 officials said that there were 740 students absent on the day of the walkout, compared to 453 students who were absent the previous Friday. It’s not clear if the spike in absences was due to the walkout.
Later in the day, several hundred Brooks middle schoolers converged on the field outside of their school for a rally led by members of the Eco Eagles ecology club at Brooks.
Elizabeth Burnett walked all the way from nearby Maywood to join the students during the Global Climate Strike.
“It’s a sad day when the kids are the only adults in the room,” she said. “They won’t be able to thrive on this planet and we’ve created it for them. They have the most to lose. People my age will be dead or at least too old to care by then.”