Chloe Pressley, our Student Voice Ambassador and a senior at CD Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, is one of the millions of students returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic. With an abysmal counselor and psychologist to student ratio and pressing overcrowding problem at her public school, she is worried about the lack of mental health supports, public health protections and more when she returns to school.
On a Monday #DemandSafeSchools event hosted by the American Federation of Teachers, Chloe joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, AFT President Randi Weingarten and more in demanding increased funding for schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Read Chloe’s full speech here.
My name is Chloe Pressley. I am 17 years old and a senior at CD Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia. I am also an Ambassador for Student Voice, a student-led organization advancing educational equity. I miss my school so much, from our caring staff to football games to leading the black student union. However, I just cannot support going back until it is truly safe.
For students like me, quarantine has been an isolating and scary experience. As we attempt to learn in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, students first and foremost need more care and support. However, many public schools don’t have funding for mental health services. The counselors at my school are assigned to 400 kids each, and there is one school psychologist for 2,300 students, and that psychologist works with multiple schools! It’s ridiculous to even expect them to remember my name, let alone my story. This is not unique to my county. Students across the nation do not have the support from school staff that they need to learn due to a lack of funding.
In my metropolitan area, with thousands of homes and people, we have extreme overcrowding. My school is about 15% overcapacity. A neighboring school is 50% overcapacity. To go back to the school building safely, we need funding to expand our buildings or purchase portable classroom trailers. Right now, we can’t afford any of these options. In schools planning to reopen, PPE and cleaning supplies must be present on campus. Schools must provide masks for students who cannot afford or access them. The costs of these supplies will add up to an enormous expense. Our schools were underfunded before the pandemic. The federal government should take responsibility for their mishandling of COVID-19 by providing financial support for all schools who choose to reopen, or leave students vulnerable to the virus.
School districts engaging in distance learning also face critical repercussions. Many districts are struggling to find the resources to conduct online learning. In my county, we can only afford to provide high school students with laptops this school year, leaving out all middle and elementary schoolers. Digital equity goes beyond devices. Students also need the internet in order to use such devices effectively. Some schools have developed free Wi-Fi in their parking lots, but students are at home — not school. How do they receive that Wi-Fi, by getting to school? By bus, by car, by walking? What about rain or any inclement weather? What do students do then?
Students I know are also concerned about food. Normally, schools offer breakfast and lunch to students. However, with online and hybrid learning, this promise appears to be in danger. Employing cafeteria staff and bus drivers to make and deliver meals to the many students without reliable transportation all requires more funding. Students need food as fuel for learning to the best of our abilities. In the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the world, no student should be going hungry without meal assistance.
This pandemic is an opportunity for our nation to reinvent the education system and how public schools operate. For too long, our public schools have been starved of funding. To overcome COVID-19, we must provide students with all the resources they need. Across the nation, millions of other students and I will be joining the day of action on Wednesday, September 2nd to provide an opportunity for our government to redeem itself and protect both our public schools and our safety. To me, funding is personal. Congress’ decision will affect my future — the future of America.
About Student Voice
Student Voice is a by-students, for-students 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in all 50 states to equip students as storytellers, organizers and institutional partners who advocate for student-driven solutions to educational inequity. Through direct civic action, Student Voice helps students hold their schools and surrounding communities accountable to the Student Bill of Rights and prepares them to become lifelong agents of social and political change. For more information about Student Voice, visit our website at StuVoice.org and follow @Stu_Voice and #StuVoice on social media.