Just one blade of grass One small voice preaching for change To spark a movement
What do you do when you’re a California kid and a pandemic is keeping you and your friends out of the classroom? If you’re a fifth-grader called Truth Speaker (self-chosen pseudonym to protect his identity), you write a petition, post it on change.org and then get busy gathering signatures.
Here in Truth Speaker’s school district in the San Francisco Bay Area, elementary kids finally returned to the classroom after almost a year at home. But only for 3.5 hours a day, twice a week. Not nearly enough, thought our hero. “I believe that you should go back to school, and I believe that this is really bad for us,” he said. “Like, in all honesty I don’t think distance learning is good for us in any way, and in any way whatsoever, is it better for us.”
He told me that the school day at home gets pretty monotonous. (He is still in full-time distance learning because families had to choose hybrid, DL or stay with teacher last November; he chose the teacher and the teacher got DL.) Morning class, small-group work, more class, recess, PE thrown in somewhere. He only gets to hang out with his best friends on Friday afternoons, when they play online games on Google Meet.
“I need to speak up, because the adults, sure, they can make decisions but they don’t make the best decisions,” he said. “Let’s be honest here.”
In his petition, Truth Speaker asks his school district to send kids back to school five days a week.
“With DL you rarely get to meet your friends and social bonds have been severed. If we come back to school many of you can reunite with your friends and have a more comfortable life.”
Right now Truth Speaker’s petition has 75 signatures — no easy task considering the lack of opportunities for interactions between kids. Plus, many of his peers have never seen a petition and are too young to be on social media.
I asked Truth Speaker where he got his inspiration for activism. He told me that he feels that young people have more clarity. “We are the future of our country. And so I believe it’s our duty to make our future better.”
Until the pandemic, however, Truth Speaker kept his activism closer to home. He and his four school friends like to look around for problems they can help solve. This past year, they championed a new math curriculum because the program the district had switched to wasn’t working for all learning types. The kids researched and found different math supplements they could use. While the teacher couldn’t jettison the old program, she did incorporate some of the kids’ suggestions, which the class appreciated.
Another fight the kids launched was over school lunches. They were not inclusive, and kids with food allergies or vegetarians didn’t have a lot of options. By the time the older kids got to the front of the line, their options were severely limited. Because Truth Speaker is vegetarian, one day his lunch consisted only of carrots. “We were in the middle of writing our letter to getting, like, a front pass for people who have dietary restrictions, and then we went into quarantine.”
Truth Speaker drew inspiration from I Am Malala (“I loved it. … and the whole idea of speaking up for what you believe is a main theme of the book), a petition the sixth graders wrote in response to their own bad school lunches (“I really thank them because their petition was really well written …”) and his mom’s interest in getting kids back in school. He said, “She was attending these board meetings and … she was asking, What can we do about this? And so I thought if I made a petition and like 100 or so people signed it, then we would have … evidence that this many kids and parents want to do this.”
We talked about how he collected signatures by going around the neighborhood, knocking on the doors of kids’ houses. When I asked if he liked doing that, he said, “It depends on the weather.” He acknowledged feeling some nerves but he also found lots of support. “You’d be surprised at the amount of people who want to help you in the world.”
Like all effective activists, Truth Speaker isn’t working on his own. His four good friends helped. They sent out emails so they could reach more students that he didn’t know. “I encourage my friends to send it to others,” he said. ”My vision for this is not really to have parents tell their kids to sign it but, like, kids tell their parents to sign it. Because the whole article that’s written in the petition is targeted for kids. It’s written to kids. It’s not written to parents. And so my whole idea is to get kids more involved in what they’re experiencing.”
Tonight, Truth Speaker plans to speak up during the public comment period at the school board meeting. His mom has already sent the trustees his petition.
In parting, Truth Speaker said to me, “Well, thank you because this was a great opportunity for me. I really appreciate what you’re doing, and all the people like you who support those who need help.”
It would be wonderful if the school board listened to what Truth Speaker has to say and seriously considered the concerns expressed in his petition. With kids like these, the future is looking up.
I couldn’t resist asking this inspiring young person to name three other problems he thought needed to be addressed. He replied with global warming, animal rights and water scarcity.
When I asked if he had ideas about how to help with these issues, he had one answer for all: “Everyone go vegetarian.”
The poem at the beginning of this article was written by the young activist.
If your child goes to school in the San Mateo-Foster City School District and would like to sign the petition, please email the author!
This is the first in a new series on DemCastUSA — Who’s Fixing America? — about activists and their work. We hope you will return to read more about the people dedicated to changing and improving our world!
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