A Whitehorse high school has been providing free menstrual products to students for more than three years now, something staff say is a success when it comes to breaking down barriers to education.
Porter Creek Secondary School (PCSS) has baskets in all its girls’ washrooms with pads, tampons, panty liners and other products that students can take whenever they need.
While menstrual products were previously available free of charge, guidance counsellor Joanne Seymour said in an interview Sept. 6 that students would have to go to the office to ask for them, a process that could be uncomfortable or awkward.
“So I thought, what could I do to just make it simpler?” she said.
Seymour said she spends about $500 per school year on menstrual products, varying the types and sizes of products based on what students want.
She also has extra clothing, like underwear or tights, on hand, “in case something were to happen at school where they needed a quick change.”
The reception from students, she said, has been positive.
“They love it, and sometimes if the baskets are empty, they will be like, ‘Ms. Seymour, you gotta go fill the baskets!’ or whatever,” Seymour said.
“And also, some of our girls, their home situation, you know, maybe financially it’s difficult for them to access the products so sometimes I’ll fill the baskets and they’ll take extra home or if they’re with me I’m like, ‘Here, take a few, take whatever you need.’”
It’s a policy schools across the country have been adopting.
British Columbia issued an ordered earlier this year that all public schools must provide free menstrual products by the end of 2019. The Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in the country, also announced this spring that its schools would be supplying products to students starting in the 2019-20 school year.
“When B.C. announced that change … we talked about that at our school council meeting, you know, a parent brought it up and said, ‘Are we doing that here? We should be doing that here,’” PCSS vice-principal Peter Giangrande told the News.
“(It was) an exciting opportunity for us to share that we’d been doing that for several years, so (parents) were excited to hear that, that we were ahead of the game, so to speak.”
The initiative, Giangrade said, was part of an effort by staff to be “always scanning for barriers” students may face, and proactively making changes to combat those barriers.
When it comes to menstrual products, not having access to them can lead to girls staying at home, missing school and falling behind, he explained.
“I mean, sometimes students won’t come and say, ‘Oh, geez, this is an issue for me, that, you know, I have my period and I need to go home,’” Giangrade said. “They’re not going to say that, but we need to scan the environment … and make those changes.”
Other things underway at PCSS include food and transportation programs. Seymour also stocks the baskets with shampoo, soap and lotion, and she’s created “couch-surfing kits” that students who aren’t staying at home can take.
“Some of these topics are still taboo in school culture across Canada,” Giangrade said, “but we’re trying to break that down and have those conversations, normalize those conversations so we can break down those barriers.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org