Relatively recently, some states began allowing students to bring sunscreen to school, house the product among their personal belongings, and apply it at will. As silly as it may seem, this is kind of a big deal.
As of now, only about a dozen states allow children unrestricted access to a product the FDA considers an over-the-counter drug, yet a few more have related legislation in the works. Washington State’s Bill 5404 is one of the several that passed because the idea that students have the ability and right to protect themselves from skin cancer makes sense. Doing so likely provides children short- and long-term benefits backed by science, and upholding educational processes as barriers to these benefits does not.
What may seem like a no-brainer, an “of course” moment in youth advocacy, should instead be a call to action for more. The ability to police one’s own body is at the heart of a variety of current and upcoming legislation regarding children in this country. Depending on where one lives, a child’s right to a free and public education may include dress code freedoms, the right to select the preferred restroom, and access to health services regardless of parental preferences. For others, antiquated laws, such as the inclusion of corporal punishment, still control a child’s bodily experience at school.
As one of my mentors says, every unturned stone holds potential. The good news about education policy is that it can expand to care for all children if the adults who serve a populace advocate for its wide application. As educators who want what will give our students the greatest chance of manifesting their best life, joining with our communities in advocacy is a powerful extension of our profession.
There are many ways we can become involved in education policy, increasing our depth and breadth of engagement, no matter our location.
Stay informed. This is one of my go-to websites for staying on top of education law in Washington State, and other states have similar pages. With regard to federal law, I keep an eye on this page for recent Department of Education issuances.
Put the A in authentic. Rarely does an assignment go by that doesn’t have potential for sharing with a wider audience, creating a deeper learning experience for the student. If a unit concludes in students crafting compelling arguments, consider a relevant project with an actual audience in mind, such as creating public service announcement. Students can then send their messages about wearing bike helmets, limiting screen time, or wearing sunscreen to policymakers that can use their work to influence large scale change.
Make it personal. If students are increasingly given control over their physical selves, it should follow that they manage control over their academic selves as well. Creating student-centered learning experiences that include metacognitive awareness and application give children the reins over their education. Among other beneficial reasons, this style of instruction can increase engagement through meaningful and culturally relevant customization.
Get a little fired up. Who hasn’t watched a movie about the education system and wanted to go forth and change all that ails? While one could dismiss the exceptional acting of Edward James Olmos, Morgan Freeman, and Hillary Swank as Hollywood versions of teachers, it is hard to ignore the popularity and emotional draw of an adult giving their all to make a corner of the world a better place for its children. Go ahead, tuck (back) into Remember the Titans, Dead Poets Society, and Dangerous Minds, giving yourself permission to reconnect with the passion behind our industry.
Be present. How many of our profession learned how DACA affects their students only when it hit recent news? Attend legislative or policy review sessions to steer changes? When was the last time you sat with a student to listen, truly and whole-heartedly, to what that kid needs from you? Showing up is a gift you give; make it an influential one.
Role Model. Don’t forget the sunscreen.