Updated: May 12, 2022
As our CAARSEA group grows, various committees have begun to take form to specifically address the needs in our community. Among them is the Youth and Schools committee, created and formed by residents Juliet Curci and Sonia Pickney. We sat down with current leader and resident Monica Salvia recently to learn more about how the committee operates, its current projects and future goals.
Recently the Youth and Schools committee has grown to have parents, teachers, and community members as part of the team. Monica shares,
“We talk about what’s happening right now in Colonial, how can we learn more about it, how can we support the positive efforts that have been taking place, how can we ensure there is adequate training. We are absolutely committed to hearing directly from students and from staff about their needs about what is happening or isn’t happening.”
The committee recognizes there are many layers to and ways to advocate for our youth and their education throughout the Colonial area. While this is not limited to public schools, the Committee has focused on the Colonial School District as an impactful place to begin. “[Our goal is] to have active involvement in all places where decisions are made.” The committee attends the monthly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion meetings, school board meetings, and various meetings that take place in schools that our members are involved in.
Mandy Edwards, a member of the committee and an educator in the district, is a co-sponsor for various Colonial School District student clubs including the Black Cultural Awareness (BCA) and the Intersectional Feminism Club. Recently the CAARSEA Youth and Schools team supported the Intersectional Feminism Club when advocating for period and education equity, requesting access to sanitary products in the (middle and high) school bathrooms. “It is really hampering for a student who is [menstruating]actively bleeding to make the long walk to the other side of the school to the nurse’s office, sign in, and wait to be seen.” The club has been working towards this for six years, with teachers and families ready to donate the sanitary products for the bathrooms. It is an issue of equity and fair access to education, as without appropriate products menstruating students are forced to miss much more class time than their male counterparts. The students’ concerns regarding their access to products were heard but not pursued by the administration, until the members of CAARSEA connected with the students and wrote a letter on their behalf. The administration now allows free menstrual products in 3 of the school’s bathrooms. Mandy shares that while the students and staff are appreciative of the support from the administration and community, students are hopeful for improved communication between themselves and the administration and the chance to discuss and collaboratively problem solve in the future.
This example highlights the need for children in our district to feel heard, valued, and empowered as they become emerging adults. As this is an election year, and an important one in both our local area and in Pennsylvania, the Youth and Schools Committee has plans to connect with CAARSEA’s Elections committee and PA Youth Vote to support voting empowerment for high school students. They are also communicating with Gerald James, Equity, Diversity, and Instruction Officer for the district. Monica hopes the committee can continue to work directly with the students and administration to support issues that are pro-diversity and pro-equity.
Recently, Colonial School District began the process of an equity audit led by MAEC, Inc., an outside organization (https://maec.org/resource/equity-audit-materials/). Many of the Youth and Schools Committee members have volunteered to participate in the audit, expected to occur in Fall 2022. Monica shares, “We have a big reach, a big scope. Right now we want to have a presence and a knowledge base, and hear what our community wants and what the needs are.” To aid this effort, the committee has created an on-going list of ways to proactively impact equity in local schools. Among the issues noted on this list are: Increasing staff diversity, discipline policies focused on growth and learning, including non-Christian holidays as days off on the student calendar, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline issue, encouraging high school students to vote, and many more. Additions and comments are welcomed from the public, who can email Monica Salvia directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or CAARSEA@gmail.com
With constant pivots, virtual learning, experiences of racism, and a variety of stressors facing children and families these past two years (and beyond), it’s likely many students are experiencing a not-so-visible struggle. As the adults on the outside, it can be difficult to decipher the issues students are facing behind closed doors. Monica hopes the committee can become a space for students, families and community members to share the good and the bad.
“We can intentionally gather information from sources that don’t always get the center light…. And provide a safe place for people to share these stories while responding with respect, trustworthiness, and continuing to keep the door open for people.”