I recently had the kind of conversation an educator needs at this time of the year.
Claudia Bautista is a dedicated and skilled teacher at Santa Monica High School. She described a group of ninth grade students who took on a service learning project, and in challenging an injustice they saw on their own campus, exemplified youth agency and the promise of civic education.
The students had just learned about the troubling history of eugenics in Claudia’s Freshman Seminar course, which includes a deep dive into Race and Membership in US History. After watching No Mas Bebes, a heartbreaking documentary about the forced sterilization of Latina women in Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center in the 1980s, the class was then prompted to begin thinking about a focus for their service projects.
“The students are asked to connect with what kinds of needs there are in the community and how can they right an injustice that they see - to become upstanders…” Claudia said. “This group of ninth grade girls did a project based on not having enough hygienic products at school. They saw that students who have less means than they do, weren’t coming to school. Maybe they didn’t have pads or materials at home to bring to school, and here they were being charged 25 cents for them at school, which is a lot of money if you have little means. So these girls were so upset that they decided that was going to be the injustice to focus on.”
The students researched the problem and possible solutions. On paper, the students uncovered, it doesn’t seem like there is a large population in need. Yet, they were able to see that many students felt the stigma of signing up for the free and reduced lunch program, which impacts funding that could provide access to hygienic products. They also found a company, Aunt Flow, from which they could purchase dispensers to place in bathrooms across campus.
“The company was going to sell them the material/dispensers at a discount and they did the research as to how much the cost would be, how many bathrooms there are on campus,” said Claudia. “They did all the finances and without me knowing they went to the Board of Education. They could not believe that our school did not provide something like this. Their argument was “if I get a bloody finger at school I can get a band-aid, so what is the difference if I’m a girl and I get my period?” Isn’t that clever!”
To hear Claudia tell this story is to hear joyous pride and admiration for students. She didn’t even know her students had planned on presenting to the Board - she learned of it from a district employee who texted her on the spot. The Board gave her students close to $7000 to purchase the dispensers.
“They just happened to speak right after a presentation on social justice standards,” said Claudia. “It couldn’t have been more perfect. The stars aligned for them. It can be so frightening, addressing adults, the entire board, but they were so poised and well prepared for that presentation.”
The students have since formed a club to act as a watchdog over the project, ensuring that the Board follows up on its commitments. They carried out the project as ninth graders and are now sophomores with two more years to see this project through. Claudia gives her students the credit for acting with courage, strategy, and conviction, and she also believes that her implementation of Facing History’s approach and curriculum opens the door for students to discover their agency.
“What is so wonderful about Facing History is that it forces kids to see that there are injustices everywhere and it’s only about opening your eyes to it and becoming an advocate… That’s what happens when you have kids that look around to their surroundings and think about ways to make their community better. It speaks to the power of the curriculum. You have to identify if you are going to be a bystander and just observe or take action and right a wrong. It is becoming part of the way they view the world.”
Ready to share your #LAUpstander story? Ready to bring upstanding lessons to your students? Click here to learn more.