By Margaret Zheng
At the February 15 general meeting in the Chancellor Center, the CR School Board unanimously approved the draft 2018-2019 district calendar, a plan which would have been fairly ordinary if not for one remarkable addition. Diwali, a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs that falls on Nov. 7 this year (the celebration follows a lunar calendar), was now an official school holiday, a day off for students and teachers. Yet what was most unprecedented was the cause for the addition: a student-led campaign that activated both Hindu and non-Hindu supporters.
The campaign began when a CRN junior, Vir Sahu, testified at the Dec. 21 School Board meeting about the need for the district to recognize more diverse student backgrounds. He argued that recognition of major Hindu holidays such as Diwali in the school calendar would be a step in building a more inclusive school community. This was Sahu’s first time giving public comment at a Board meeting, and his testimony seemed effective, as he was invited to attend the next CR Academic Standards Committee meeting in Jan., at which plans for the 2018-2019 calendar were to be discussed.
Later, when Sahu found that the Academics Standards meeting had been cancelled, yet the district calendar was still listed as an item for approval on the Jan. Board meeting agenda without the addition of Diwali, he began to coordinate a more powerful campaign.
He started a Change.org petition that eventually boasted just under 450 signatures from students and others of the CR community. For the Jan. 18 Board meeting, he invited several CRN students, including this reporter, to testify in support of making Diwali a school holiday. Although the Board gave time only for Sahu, Sahu’s father, and two other students to give public comment on the topic, it listened to their testimonies and decided unanimously to discuss the calendar at the Feb. Academic Standards meeting and to vote on it at the Board meeting following.
Sahu went to the Academic Standards meeting expecting to win no more than a half-day as recognition of Diwali in the next school year. Yet due to the online petition, student testimonies at both the Jan. Board meeting and the Feb. Academic Standards meeting, and a School Board notably receptive to student participation and input, the students involved in the campaign gained a greater victory: a full day off in honor of Diwali for the 2018-19 school year and beyond.
The unanimous Board vote for the revised district calendar soon sparked local media coverage and caused the Universal Society of Hinduism to urge all Pennsylvania schools to make Diwali an official holiday.
Reflecting on an ecstatic experience of civic power, Sahu explained, “I learned that students have the ability to make a difference when they see something in their community that needs to be changed. We have stronger voices than we may seem to perceive and it is important to make yourself heard, especially regarding topics that are close to your heart.”
He recommends that all students, including busy ones, occasionally attend School Board meetings and politically involve themselves in school issues, even if they do not yet have a cause for which they are passionate.
“Attending School Board meetings not only allows the Board members to become aware of student concerns,” Sahu observes, “but it also provides legitimacy to your efforts, thus making it more likely for the policy makers to agree to them.”
Please recognize that this reporter cannot be impartial to the campaign, in part because she was involved in its beginning stages, but also because she is human and thus naturally, likely incorrigibly, biased. She understands that bias or the perception of bias can cause offense, and she welcomes disapproval and even anger and disgust from readers of different perspectives from the students supporting the Diwali campaign.
She only advises that instead of reacting to feelings of frustration or anger by seeking to hurt and harm their opponents, persons thinking and feeling about any sort of controversy might respond proactively to their emotions by articulating compassionately their perspectives and by constructing campaigns that promote their cause while respecting the differing viewpoint of their opposition.
Incidentally, the day the district calendar was approved directly followed the day of the Parkland massacre, a tragedy which has motivated high school students in Florida and across the nation to amplify their voice and urge legislation and action that would prevent additional mass shootings from threatening their lives and their learning. Even though students do not all possess the right to vote, they increasingly participate in civic and political life and insist that their voices – their thoughts, feelings, stories – be heard.
By Amelia Spring
In June 2014, Council Rock School District administrators and stakeholders set out to solve some of the problems that face the district, including aging infrastructure and unbalanced enrollment across the district. The district noticed pockets of population density in certain areas that led to overcrowding in many schools, mainly the Northampton elementary schools. The district decided to solve these problems by redistricting certain areas, as well as renovating current infrastructure.
The district developed these plans with the goal of balancing enrollment figures across the district. In order to achieve such balance, 9.39% of elementary students will change schools. This movement of students will help to keep all elementary school capacities around 90%.
The district has decided that students currently in grades 6-12 will not switch schools and will still graduate at the high school they were supposed to attend before the redistricting, even if they are located in a redistricted area.
However, current kindergarten through 5th graders who live in a redistricted area will have to switch schools beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.
CRSD has also planned many changes for the infrastructure of the district, including renovations for Holland Middle School, Wrightstown Elementary School, and Rolling Hills Elementary School.
The district plans to close Richboro Middle School, and the Wrightstown Elementary School students will temporarily use the Richboro Middle School building during the Wrightstown renovations.
However, the change that is arguably most exciting is the construction of a new Newtown Middle School. The new NMS building will be finished by May or June of this year. According to Mr. Long, the NMS principal, the new structure will have better Wi-Fi connectivity, bigger classrooms, and easier access to the gym and auditorium.
Overall, the changes CRSD is making may seem intimidating, but they will be very beneficial to the students in the district. These changes can improve student experiences by reducing overcrowding and making school facilities more attractive and useful.
As Mr. Long explained while describing the changes taking place at the middle school, we should be excited “to forge new customs and traditions while maintaining CR’s excellence in education.”