There’s a problem at Staples High School that half of the students are acutely aware of.
The other half had absolutely no clue.
The issue is access to free period products. Machines that dispense tampons and other pads are often broken. Students don’t always carry change. Heading to the nurse’s office can be inconvenient and time consuming.
Soon though, that problem will be alleviated. A group of students has secured $20,000 in funding to provide free products. They did it with creativity, persistence, and a healthy dose of marketing smarts.
Camille Kolek, Miriam Hurley and Adelia Purcell are the winners in the Connecticut Department of Education’s Voice4Change program. The state designated $1.5 million — part of the American Rescue Plan — to 85 schools.
The catch: Students would propose how the funds would be spent. Then their classmates would vote on which one to implement.
Camille, Miriam and Adelia — all juniors — had been part of Love Girl, a female empowerment club. They were already planning to urge principal Stafford Thomas to address the problem of inadequate access to period products.
“It’s stressful,” Camille notes. “There’s constant worry about bleeding and running out of tampons.
“The school doesn’t charge for toilet paper. No one has to go to the nurse to get it. It should be the same for pads.”
When she and her friends heard about Voice4Change — an initiative introduced statewide through a Staples event last December, with Governor Lamont, Congressman Jim Himes and State Senator Will Haskell — they realized their mission was a good match.
The students researched the price of machines for more than 20 girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms; the cost of stocking them, and the number of students who would use them at 2-3 days a week, once a month.
They submitted their proposal to the state Education Department in January. In March, officials named it one of 6 ideas for the Staples student body to consider.
They had tough competition. The other 5 finalists proposed:
- Adoptng an advanced Community Engineering and Environment course, modeled on Scarsdale High School’s “AT Entrepreneurship” class, which would be the first of its kind in Connecticut, and creating an Engineering and Design Lab open to all students and staff for an hour after school every day. (Lead sponsor: Logan Goodman)
- Funding tutors in every department for students who cannot afford them. (Ayaan Olasewere)
- Creating an Intercity Tutoring Initiative, for other districts or schools needing tutors. (Henry Foege)
- Installing 12 water bottle filling stations at existing fountains, to reduce the number of plastic bottles used every day. (Gaby Brinck)
- Establishing a student government, which would create an avenue through which more students could express their concerns. (Lyah Muktavaram)
The 6 groups campaigned via posters, and information tables outside the cafeteria. Each group also explained their ideas on the morning announcements. Most used social media too.
When male students said the period products proposal would not affect them, Camille and her friends answered, “Think how it will help your classmates and teachers. It will make the entire environment at Staples better.” That opened those doubting students’ eyes, Camille says.
Staples students voted in late March. Camille’s group has just been announced as the winner.
They’re meeting now with administrators to iron out the details. Up next: buying and installing the machines, and educating the school community about them.