By Theresa Scott
During social studies lessons in Mrs. Rahm’s and Mrs. Madison’s 4th grade class, Ashton Muehl learned about the U.S. Constitution. Inspired by the right to petition, she realized that she could use the Bill of Rights to change an issue important to her: the Benchmark School dress code. After writing a persuasive letter in class, she drafted a petition to ask Benchmark to abandon the uniform dress code. She then visited classes with the petition where she would explain the issue and informed the students that they were under no obligation or pressure to sign. She also asked fellow students on the bus and in the lunchroom. After collecting 60 signatures last March, the school closed for COVID but Ashton took up the banner again when school resumed and presented her petition to Mr. Hancock in the fall.
After Mr. Hancock read the petition, he requested a meeting with Ashton and fellow organizers, Angelina Georgiou and Madaline Yerger. Anxious about putting the best possible face on their petition, the girls enlisted the aid of their fifth-grade peers. Together, they constructed arguments that they deemed persuasive. Classmates offered up reasoning they felt would be difficult to refute when the student representatives met with the Head of School.
The student activists were articulate and passionate when they met with Mr. Hancock and Dr. Lemisch, head of Child and Family Support Services. They made their case eloquently and fielded all the questions that Mr. Hancock had for them, speaking forthrightly but respectfully. Explaining his thinking and asking for clarification, the Head of School attentively listened to the petitioners and said that he would take the issue up with his leadership team.
Following the meeting, the class was anxious. From the readings they had done about activists, they were all too aware that requests or demands are not always met, despite their merits. Still they were hopeful.
Dr. Lemisch said, “The girls did a great job, and clearly were ready for the opportunity. They seemed prepared and presented confidently. It was citizenship in the making.”
Following a meeting of the leadership team, Mr. Hancock shared the following message with the school community:
Faculty and students alike should thank Angelina Georgiou, Ashton Muehl, and Madaline Yerger for turning learning into action and advocacy. Beginning last year with Melinda Rahm and continuing this year with Theresa Scott, the girls and their class learned about the Bill of Rights. Specifically, they latched onto the right to petition.They collected more than 60 signatures and presented a very compelling case to alter dress code. They were open to compromise and to hearing the school's point of view on dress code. We had a terrific discussion.
As a result, Benchmark will have a standing dress down day on the first Friday of every month. That means (allowing some tweaks for days when school is closed), February 5, March 12, April 9, May 7, and June 4 will be dress down days for students and faculty this year. Later this winter, these ladies will also help the administration add additional Benchmark branded items to the online school store that they believe kids will like.
Enjoy and please congratulate those young ladies when you see them. Our own US politicians could learn a thing or two from them about patience and good listening.
Ashton was thrilled to be able to return to her peers and deliver the news that the first Friday of every month would be a dress-down day and was met with uproarious applause.
“I am very proud of what we accomplished. It was great to be able to tell the class how our hard work came out. It was like when you give someone a Christmas present and you see their happy face at what you gave them!”