Supplies, information available in schools
Students at the Methow Valley School District will get free menstrual-hygiene products and educational information about using them, thanks to the efforts of sophomore Ayla Belsby. The schools received their first shipment of tampons and pads last week.
Belsby came up with the project for the civic-action unit in her Individuals and Society class. While some students picked an issue like world peace, she wanted to focus on something that would provide an immediate, tangible benefit to students.
From her research — and personal experience —– Belsby found that the aging metal dispensers in girls’ bathrooms that theoretically provide a pad or tampon for a quarter haven’t been stocked for years. Menstrual supplies have been available through the school health room, but there was no notice on the dispensers letting students know that’s where they could get them, Belsby said. “It was a no-longer-functioning system,” she said.
Not only did Belsby want to address the needs of menstruators, but she also connected the matter to larger issues. She noted that the school district recognized financial inequities when it replaced the reduced-lunch program with free lunch for all students. The menstrual-product issue contributes to gender inequality, since only some students have to spend money on these products, she said.
Belsby calculated that there are approximately 200 menstruators in the schools. Not having readily available supplies for when students have their period made school less accessible for these students for about one week every month, she said. She pointed out that the school district provides other necessary hygiene products, such as toilet paper and soap and water.
She compiled her research in a presentation to Liberty Bell High School Principal Crosby Carpenter and school nurse Adriana Vanbianchi. She followed up with a proposal to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable and sent a memo to the school board asking them to fund her project. The board voted the next day to provide $2,000 per year to cover the cost of menstrual products, Belsby said.
In addition to the practical and financial aspects of her project, Belsby wanted to educate everyone in the school community about menstruation and to remove the self-consciousness that surrounds the topic for some students and staff members.
She elected to work with August because the company provides products that are more compostable and biodegradable than other brands. Belsby also liked August’s approach to education and how it destigmatizes a natural, biological process.
Belsby provided the school board with an cost estimate of $1,750 a year for five products — pads and tampons with different absorbencies.
The pads and tampons will be available in girls’ bathrooms at Liberty Bell and at the Independent Learning Center, and in sixth-grade bathrooms, where they’ll be stored in small cabinets. The supplies will also be available in the health room.
Belsby also wrote and designed educational posters for the bathrooms, including detailed posters that will be hung inside bathroom stalls with instructions about the use of pads, tampons, and other means of catching menstrual blood. The posters include clear diagrams and QR codes that link to videos and additional information.
Belsby has already observed increased comfort by students and staff about menstruation and has seen the subject become less taboo, she said. “Everyone in my class is super-chill,” she said. Many young people start out feeling self-conscious, but this is a process that creates life, she said.
Belsby’s campaign was aptly timed. While she was doing research for her project, she learned that the state Legislature passed a law last year that takes effect in the 2022-23 school year requiring all public and private schools to make menstrual-hygiene products available at no cost. The products must be available in all bathrooms designated for female students and in gender-neutral bathrooms in schools serving students in grades six through 12. In schools serving younger students and where there is no gender-neutral bathroom, menstrual-hygiene products must be available in a school health room or other designated area. The law passed by large bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate.
Belsby said she’s excited that her project will have a substantial impact that will continue after she graduates.