Students Advocate for Teachers: A Powerful Night of Solidarity at the GRPS School Board Meeting

June 26, 2024

In a remarkable demonstration of youth organizing and solidarity, the Student Association for Leadership and Transformation (SALT) made their voices heard at the June 3rd Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) Board meeting. Around 30 high school students gathered to present a series of urgent demands to improve the quality of education and support for teachers in their district.

Marching for Change

The evening began at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where SALT students convened to reaffirm their commitment to education justice. They engaged with local media, sharing their mission and the crucial demands they planned to present. With signs in hand and chants echoing their determination, the students marched to the GRPS Administration building, ready to advocate for change.

The Demands

Upon arrival, the students delivered four key demands to the school board:

  1. Increase Teacher Salaries:some text
    • Context: The shortage of qualified teachers has severely impacted students' learning experiences. Many students have endured classes without consistent, certified educators, leading to a decline in educational quality.
    • Demand: Immediately increase the salaries of GRPS teachers to match the county average. Higher pay would attract and retain more qualified, culturally competent teachers, fostering a supportive and stable learning environment.
  2. End Virtual Learning Contracts:some text
    • Context: The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the limitations of virtual learning, with many students needing to catch up.
    • Demand: Terminate the $5 million contract with Elevate K-12 and reallocate those funds to hire in-person, certified teachers. This investment would ensure students have direct access to educators who understand their community and can offer personalized support.
  3. Daily Non-Core Instruction for Elementary Students:some text
    • Context: Access to physical education, music, art, and language classes is crucial for holistic development.
    • Demand: Implement one hour of non-core instruction daily for elementary students. These classes promote self-expression, community building, and conflict resolution while giving teachers essential planning time.
  4. Transparency in Bargaining Processes:some text
    • Context: Students and their families are often excluded from decisions directly impacting their education.
    • Demand: Ensure the GRPS and Grand Rapids Education Association (GREA) bargaining processes are transparent and open to community participation. This transparency would foster trust, accountability, and greater community engagement in educational decisions.

For the full details, you can read the SALT Budget Demands here

A Night of Powerful Voices

The GRPS School Board meeting saw an impressive turnout, with the SALT students arriving early to ensure their voices were heard. Despite the board's decision to reduce public comment time from three minutes to two, the students spoke passionately about their demands. Their speeches resonated with the audience as they drew from their personal experiences and emphasized the critical need for in-person, supportive teaching environments.

Community members, including parents and other advocates, echoed the students' sentiments, underscoring the importance of the demands. Ultimately, the board voted 5-3 to renew a $2.4 million contract for virtual education, but the students' advocacy and organizing efforts highlighted the urgent need for systemic changes in the district. Three board members, Jose Rodriguez, Sara Melton, and Jordoun Eatman, specifically cited the students' comments as a factor in their no votes.

GRPS Board Meeting Links June 03, 2024
Watch the June 3, 2024, GRPS Board Meeting: Watch here

Jump to Comment Period #1 (Agenda Items): Watch here

Jump to the conversation about the Elevate K-12 (virtual teacher) Contract: Watch here 

Jump to Comment Period #2 (Non-Agenda Items): Watch here

The Future of Student Organizing

The students of SALT reminded everyone present that they are the future, and their organizing sets a powerful precedent for student-led change. Their dedication and demands reflect a deep understanding of their education system's issues and a commitment to improving it for themselves and future generations.

Want other accounts of the event? You can read from local news sources:

As we move forward, it is crucial to our mission at the Urban Core Collective to support and amplify the voices of these young leaders. Their organizing and advocacy seeks immediate improvements and strives to create a more equitable and just educational system.

Join the Movement

Urban Core Collective stands in solidarity with SALT and its mission to enhance the educational experience in Grand Rapids. Together, we can work towards a future where every student can access quality education and a supportive learning environment.

Do you know a GRPS high school student who would be interested in joining the Student Association for Leadership and Transformation? Applications are open until August 1, 2024.

Please stay connected for updates on this and other initiatives to foster community empowerment and educational justice.

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