Students advocate for change at HCPS with school board members Saturday

Students advocate for change at HCPS with school board members Saturday
Saturday, current and former Henrico County students with the group Students for a Change gathered with HCPS staff, community leaders, and school board members at the Henrico recreational center to address the resource and opportunity disparities that exist between eastern and western Henrico. (Source: NBC12)

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Saturday, current and former Henrico County students gathered with HCPS staff, community leaders and school board members at the Henrico Recreational Center to address resource and opportunity disparities between eastern and western Henrico.

Members of the group Students for a Change are asking the school board to invest in more student-teacher engagement and tutoring resources at the eastern schools -- working toward a level playing field with their western counterparts.

“These students that we are supporting are our future. These are our future doctors, our future lawyers, our future teachers,” said student advocate Renada Williams. “Resources are going to be essential to the success of our East End schools.”

“It should be equal for both sides of the county resource-wise, opportunity-wise, and especially diversity in schools, because that’s a big issue with western schools,” said student Sanaa Sledge.

Since Friday, students have been demonstrating throughout the county in order to bridge the opportunity gap between Henrico’s east and west ends.

Other recommendations for the school board include:

  • Reforming the privatized funding rules in Henrico County Public Schools
  • Reforming specialty centers to make schools more equitable for low-income students, students of color, and students from the East End
  • Defunding the Henrico County Police Department and removing police officers from schools
  • Instituting a uniform, countywide definition of “racial discrimination” and a uniform procedure that defines consequences in cases of racial discrimination
  • Creating equitable schooling in Richmond City Public Schools

School board members at the event said there are other disparities outside of the classroom that need to be addressed in order to ensure all students have an equitable start to fall.

“I have laser-focus on the East End and I represent Varina. ... Many of those inequities and injustices at the root level are not in the public school system,” said Varina District Representative Alicia Atkins. “There is significant outreach from families and students about the reopening of school, affordable childcare, racial discrimination, and resources in the East End.”

School Board Chair and Fairfield District representative Roscoe Cooper said the parents he represents can’t always leave their children at home for virtual learning because they lack teleworking options.

“A lot of my parents are not able to telework, they have to go to work and so it’s going to be very important for us as a division to work with our community partners,” said Cooper. “We’re reaching out to daycare centers, the Henrico Education Foundation, and businesses to try to make sure we can collaboratively work to help our parents and our families to ensure that the parents can still work, but the children are still learning virtually.”

Martina Jones-Smith is the direction leader for students at St. Pauls Church and a supporter of the Students for a Change group. She says she wants to promote the voices of students she works with so their concerns can be addressed before school starts.

“So often, we as adults, we say what we think our children need, and the times are so different when we were in school and we need to listen to them,” said Jones-Smith. “If we all stick together as a community, I feel like we do have enough time to make whatever changes the student need, to make it successful for them so that’s our goal.”

“It matters what the staff has to say, it matters what the teachers have to say, it matters what the parents have to say and it definitely matters what students have to say, and I look at them as stakeholders with me and together we make decisions,” said Cooper.

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