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Organizing 101: Building a Movement for Students

Organizing 101: Building a Movement for Students

Students:

Step 1: Gathering Information

  • Examine the sexual health education you’ve received.
    • Where have you learned about sexual health at school?
      • Was it a separate class, or was it part of another class?
      • Who taught you? Was there a dedicated health instructor?
      • Were you required to take a health class to graduate?
    • Were there other instructors teaching you about sexual health?
      • If your school invites outside speakers, are they religiously affiliated? If they are, are there secular speakers who are also invited to speak?
      • Did these instructors only talk about abstinence? Did they talk about other options for safe sex?
    • Are you learning about options other than abstinence?
    • Are you learning what your options are for birth control and protection if you choose to have sex?
    • Is your curriculum inclusive?
      • Are LGBT+ relationships, health, and sexuality discussed?
      • Are people with disabilities and their specific needs addressed?
      • Does the class address the needs of people who have experienced trauma and sexual violence?
    • Are you being given the information you need to make informed choices?
      • Are you being informed about local resources for your reproductive health? (health clinics, Planned Parenthood clinics, abortion access, free condoms and other forms of birth control, resources for survivors of relationship abuse and sexual violence, etc.)
    • Are you learning about consent?
    • Are you learning about healthy relationships and how to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship?
  • Communicate with your parents about what you’re learning at school.
    • Start a conversation with your parents and/or caregivers about what you’re learning about sexual health. Often, parents don’t know what their students are learning unless their kids tell them directly.
    • Your parents and caregivers can better support you if they know what kind of education you are currently receiving.
    • Your parents might be surprised about what you’re learning—sexual health education might have changed significantly since they were in school.

Step 2: Assessing the Information

  • Review Colorado state standards on sexual health education. Sexual health education in Colorado needs to be:
    • Medically accurate: information presented in class must be evidence-based.
    • Culturally sensitive: the curriculum should be inclusive of all groups, including English language learners, students with disabilities, LGBT+ students, and students who have experienced sexual violence.
    • Up-to-date: information is current and reflects new advances in the field of reproductive health.
  • Compare this information to your school district’s policy.
    • School districts are legally obligated to make this information publicly available.
    • Even the public information doesn’t address all your concerns, your experiences are still valid and the most revealing source of information about the course of CSHE.
    • Just because a school or school district has a certain policy, doesn’t mean they always follow that policy. Notice if you feel the school policy is different than what is actually happening in your classes.
    • If you feel your health classes are not meeting national standards, consider the following action steps:

Step 3: Compile a List of Problems and Develop “Asks”

  • Identify weaknesses and shortcomings of your school and school district. What problems do you see? What practices do not align with state and national standards?
  • Create your “asks.” If you were in charge, what changes would you make? In an ideal world, what would you like you sexual health education to look like?
    • Some examples:
      • Teach options other than abstinence
      • Discuss what is and what is not consent
      • Introduce curriculum that is inclusive of LGBT+ people
      • Update biased and out-of-date teaching materials
    • Write down your asks. This helps you to be clear and consistent about the changes you would like to see.
    • Compare asks with other concerned individuals. Have you identified similar problems? Are you looking to change similar things?
      • If your asks align, you’ve already started building a coalition of activists.
      • If your asks are different, work together to find common ground. Is there a way to incorporate both of your concerns? Could you make both of these asks a priority?
    • Many campaigns have multiple asks. It is okay to advocate for multiple changes at once, as long as those changes are complementary. Just make sure you stay focused and keep your asks focused in the issue of comprehensive sexual health education. Other concerns could be the basis of a separate campaign.

Step 4: Make Your Asks Public

  • Contact your student council representatives.
    • See if you can attend a student council meeting and to ask your student representatives to campaign for CSHE.
    • If you cannot attend a meeting, contact your student body representatives and let them know your school needs student leadership to support CSHE.
    • If student council representatives are not responsive to your asks, remember that you do not need a title to be a student leader. You can still take the initiative to work with school officials on your own.
  • Meet with a school or district decision-maker.
    • This is an important first step. Clarify what the existing policy is before deciding what changes to advocate for. Many administrators often don’t get to talk directly with students, so scheduling a meeting with them is a powerful tool. This is also an opportunity to gauge the school and/or district administration’s support. It is possible that they are supportive of CSHE, but don’t have the time, support, or resources to make changes.
      • It is important to meet with a school or district decision-maker first before you decide to take any further steps. Going to the school board before meeting with a school or district decision-maker can be seen as working around the school and district staff. If the school or district decision-maker you meet with is resistant and you feel like you are not making progress in presenting your concerns and requests, then take further action to ensure your concerns are heard.
    • Decide whether to meet with a school or district decision-maker. Since you already have a relationship with your school administration, it might make sense to talk to your school first. If you feel your school’s issues are also district-wide, you could follow up a meeting with a school administrator with a district administrator. Since district administrators often don’t get much contact with students, your presence can be very powerful. If you are having trouble setting a meeting with a district administrator, your school might be able to help connect you.
    • Come prepared. Bring the list of problems you would like to address, a copy of your “asks,” and some printed resources. The school or district decision-maker should be willing to work with you to implement the changes you want to see. Provide the school or district decision-maker with printed copies of some or all of the resources.
  • Find like-minded peers.
    • Consider starting a club organized around reproductive rights advocacy or civil liberties in general. The club could spread awareness about reproductive health and access to CSHE.
    • Find a teacher or other staff member who could serve as the advisor of your group.
    • If you cannot start a club, you can still organize a group of students to attend a school board meeting or contact school board members, state board members, and state legislators.
    • If you are struggling to find students at your school, see if you can make connections with students from other schools in the district. You could form a district-wide group if necessary. If your school is small, reaching out to other schools might be a smarter tactic.
  • Connect with existing community support.
    • There are also other advocates in the community who would welcome student input. For example, school districts often have Health Advisory Boards and Health Advisory Councils that could use more student voices.
    • Your school district might have a student Health Advisory Council you can get involved in.
  • Get connected with your school board. Contact your school board representatives to let them know you want comprehensive sexual health education.
    • School boards are made up of elected officials who make district-wide decisions. Depending on the size of your school district, there may be a board member assigned to your specific area.
    • The website of your specific school board will have contact information for your representatives.
  • Attend a school board meeting and provide public comment.
    • School boards meet regularly. You can find information about these meetings on the school board website. During these meetings, there is often time allotted for members of the public to comment on issues not on the meeting agenda.
    • If you attend a school board meeting, there will be an opportunity to sign up for a spot to make your public comment. Make sure you sign up as soon as possible when you arrive at the meeting.
    • Public comments are short speeches (no more than three minutes) giving a quick summary of your cause to the board.
  • If you choose to make a public comment, you should outline your 2-3 minute speech in advance, and prepare a packet of written materials to leave with the school board members after the meeting, including sample policies and other resources.
  • Do not feel like you have to speak to the school board alone. People frequently speak to the school board in groups. Invite some of your peers to support you. You could also invite your parents, teachers, and other members of the community who support your cause. The more students advocating for an issue, the more school board members will take notice.
  • Most school board meetings are not heavily attended, so even the presence of a few students can make a huge impact.
  • Contact your state board of education.
    • The state board is responsible for making statewide policy decisions that affect all school districts. By bringing the issue of CSHE to their attention, you have the potential to influence statewide decisions about the issue. You can find the contact information of the state board on the Colorado State Board of Education website.
  • Provide public comment at a state board meeting.
    • The Colorado state board is available for public comment on Wednesdays; if you cannot attend in person, you may submit a written comment to be read to the board.
    • Making a public comment to the state board is very similar to going to a school district board meeting. Here are the state board’s guidelines on public comment.
  • Partner with community organizations who help young people access CSHE.
    • There are many organizations working on providing access to health education in Colorado. They can have more of an impact if they can connect with Colorado high schoolers impacted by these issues.
    • There is no harm in reaching out to these organizations to see if they can offer support.
    • Consult the list of partner organizations in the Additional Resources section.
      • Check their websites for information about CSHE advocacy and what kind of work the organization does to support CSHE.
      • Do any of these organizations have representatives or offices close to you? See if you can arrange a meeting or phone call.
      • If not, look up the contact information for members of that organization. Contact the organization and ask about resources that might be available to you. There may be resources and contacts available that are not listed on their website.
    • If an organization does not get back to you, don’t think that means CSHE isn’t important to them. They might not have the time or resources to support you. Simply move on to another organization on the list and see if they are able to offer some support and guidance.
  • Contact your state legislators. Even if you are not yet old enough to vote, you are still an important constituent. State legislators are still concerned about issues in their voting district’s schools. Hearing directly from people in their district can be very persuasive. State representatives deal with a lot of issues at once. They might not be fully aware of CSHE unless you tell them about the issue.
    • If you are unsure who your representatives are, use your zip code to find your legislators with this search tool.
    • Send emails and make phone calls to your legislator’s office. It’s also smart to utilize social media to contact your legislator. Most state legislators are on Facebook and Twitter, so you can tag them in posts you make about CSHE.
    • The more you contact your legislator, the more they will notice constituents are concerned about CSHE access.
    • See if you can schedule a meeting with your legislator. You can visit them at their Denver office while the General Assembly is in session, but do not feel like traveling to the state capitol is the only way to meet your legislator. When not in session, they are likely to be in your district and more accessible to constituents. Most legislators have websites where you can request a meeting. If you can’t find that option on their website, you can always contact their office and a legislative aide will help you schedule an appointment.
  • Write letters to the editor in local publications.
    • A letter to the editor is a short piece, usually under 250 words, that quickly describes the issue you’re concerned about and what changes you would like to see.
    • Your voice as a student is powerful. You are the person who is most impacted by the decisions of school districts. The public is not aware of what is going on in your school unless you bring it to their attention.
    • You do not need to have impressive credentials to write a letter to the editor. You simply need to be a member of the community who is concerned about an issue. Young people’s opinions are just as important as people old enough to vote.
    • Ask a teacher, adult, or peer to review your letter to the editor and offer feedback. The stronger the writing, the more likely your letter will get published.
    • For detailed information about writing a letter to the editor, check out the guide in the Additional Resources section.
  • Use social media. Social media is full of opportunities to amplify student voices. You can use your existing personal accounts, or make new social media accounts for your movement.
    • Social media is a great medium to grab the attention of decision-makers. Elected officials are on social media and may notice your advocacy online before you have a chance to meet with them. This is also a great tool to inform other students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and other community members about your advocacy and get them involved with your campaign.
    • Show the public why you care. Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to show the public why you care about CSHE. Social media is a great place to share personal experiences and stories related to an issue.
    • Many people don’t have that much information about CSHE. Use social media to share facts, statistics, and research about the importance of comprehensive sexual health education. Your posts might be someone’s only source of information about the issue.
    • Social media is an easy way to recruit more supporters. Your peers may be hesitant to help you in executing a big action, but they might be willing to retweet you, follow links you post in your Instagram story, or share a Facebook status. Once they see your presence on social media, they might be more comfortable with joining your campaign.
    • Keep your online advocacy focused on the importance of CSHE. Do not specifically target any elected official if you have not had a chance to connect with them and find out their stance on the issue. Even then, putting specific elected officials on blast damages relationships and makes it more difficult for you and other community members to advocate for CSHE later on.
    • Social media is especially good for promoting a specific call to action.
      • Share information about an upcoming school board meeting and invite others to join you.
      • If you write a letter to the editor, share it on your social media and encourage others to share it.
      • Encourage others to contact their elected officials to advocate for CSHE.
    • Use social media to share your victories.
      • Share photos and videos from action events. For example, share a photo of someone giving a public comment at a school board meeting.
      • If you meet with an elected official, ask for a photo. You can share this on social media to show followers what steps your campaign is taking.
      • If there is a vote or policy change, inform your network about these changes, especially if those changes are supportive of CSHE.
  • Tell us what you’re doing!
    • Contact the ACLU of Colorado to let us know how this toolkit has helped you, and what steps you have taken to advocate for comprehensive sexual health education at your local school or district.