Seventh graders Ja'Niyah Pratt and Journey Roberson address the school board during "Students Speak Out" at Walker-Grant Middle School on Wednesday.

Walker-Grant students get their chance to ‘school’ board members

by | Mar 1, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Schools & Education

One by one, the speakers stepped up to the lectern to voice their concerns before members of the Fredericksburg City School Board. Each was allotted the standard three minutes at the microphone. 

But this was no ordinary public comment session.  

Expired milk cartons, empty soap dispensers and bullying were among the issues discussed by the 30-plus Walker-Grant Middle School students who participated in “Students Speak Out” on Wednesday morning.

Last month, Walker-Grant students were given an English assignment in which they were asked to craft a persuasive argument, identifying both concerns and a solution to the problem. From there, they were invited to volunteer to “speak out.”

“You all are prepared for this,” school board chair Jarvis Bailey said at the start of the event, which was held in the school’s cafetorium and served as an official school board meeting. “It’s important that we add to creating good citizens. And taking an opportunity to share. We’re honored and excited to see what you have to say today.” 

Much of what they had to say concerned school food, with students criticizing both the available options and the overall quality. 

“Sometimes it’s not safe,” eighth grader Shane Caddin said. “Let me give an example; my friend and I were having lunch on Jan. 22 and she looked at me and said the milk was ‘chunky’… I looked at the date on the carton — Dec. 25, 2023 — it was nearly a month expired.  

“I want to make a complaint because this isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s happened to me before and I’ve heard others complain about it. I even know some people who quit eating school food because of it.” 

Mahria Nadimyar and Sediqa Kazimi, who are Muslim, shared that they don’t currently have a space for afternoon prayer during the month of Ramadan.  

“I would like for the school to designate a quiet place where we can pray,” read their request, which was translated by student reader Kenses Mars.  

Kelly Alvarado submitted a comment in which she bemoaned the general upkeep of the middle school building, but especially student bathrooms with “sinks that are almost falling off the walls.” 

“I also think it is important to note that there aren’t always feminine products in the bathroom,” wrote Alvarado, “and when they are, they cost money. They should be free for students.”  

Eighth-grader Quinn Ball used her time to describe her personal experiences with bullying, which she said led her to avoid school when she was younger. Ball said she considers both bullying and discrimination to be pervasive problems at Walker-Grant.  

“It’s to the point that it could be considered a social norm instead of something that should be absolutely unacceptable,” she said.  

School board member Molly McFadden (at-large) said that the student commenters “exceeded any expectations I could’ve had,” especially with their willingness to address sensitive and personal topics.

“I was thoroughly impressed that kids went up and talked about mental health and bullying,” McFadden said. “We know that that’s hard to do for adults in front of peers.”

When the final student had finished speaking, the school board moved to adjourn its meeting. The gavel just beat the fourth-period bell.  

“Change can happen, and this is how it starts,” Bailey told the students in closing.  

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