Ciara Williams is passionate about young people in Chester receiving the quality education that they deserve. She is one of many youths in Chester demonstrating that they do care about their education and who are striving to have their voices heard.
Chester Digital: What pushed you to get involved in the developing youth movement in Chester concerning the Chester Upland School District?
Ciara Williams: I got involved with the youth movements in Chester during the 2011-2012 school year. The foundation of The Chester Upland School District was crumbling around its students. Students aren’t being adequaltely educated. For me, as well as many others, that created a sense of ugency. The final straw was the lack of teachers. For the first couple months of school, there were only two classes and uncertainty about the seniors having enough credits for graduation. At that point, I decided that something had to be done by the students. I was also extremely worried about the younger students. I have a little brother in the 9th grade.
CD: How did the idea of the Chester Upland Youth March on January 13, 2012 formulate?
Williams: I didn’t plan the January 13th march, I was just a participant; but from my understanding, it was planned by students from Chester High School. They messaged a bunch of people via Facebook and it spread like wildfire. I did have a hand in the walkout in September. I believe it was September 15th. The night before me and two other people discussed possible actions to bring attention to the issues facing the school district. Someone came up with the idea to crash a press conference being held the following day about the state of education in Chester. We decided to do that because no students were invited and that was a huge issue.
CD: What were the goals of the youth walkout?
Williams: The goal of the September walkout was to get teachers, create a sense of urgency in the community, and to encourage better communication between students and administration about the financial issues because at that point, we were completely in the dark about the whole thing.
CD: What community support/external support did the walkout rely on in order to be executed, if any? How did the school and community at large react?
Williams: The September walkout relied on a community activist Desire Grover. She printed out flyers, made signs, and lead the walkout. That support was crucial to the success of the walkout because we needed an adult there with us. The reactions to both of the walkouts varied. Many parents of the students who attended were angry because they felt as though their child’s life was put in danger. Some community members thought that the walkouts were unnecessary because the students should be in school. Other community members commended the students for stepping up and a lot of them became involved soon after. Within the school, the reactions were mixed too. For the most part, after the walkouts there was a sense of solidarity. I think the students that participated became closer. I’ve made a bunch new friends.
CD: At Chester 101, I remember you talked about an upcoming youth rally with an organization in February. What ended up happening and what were the implications?
Williams: The February 14th rally was amazing! Over 400 hundred students showed up from across Pennsylvania. There were students from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, and Chester. Before the rally, students met with state legislators and other politicians. The rally itself was a huge success. Representatives from each city spoke. The speeches were absolutely amazing. They were so heartfelt and effectively relayed the hardships in financially struggling school districts. There weren’t really any implications for the rally. The students who attended were excused from school because there was a lot of support from the administration team. I even brought back a button for my school’s disciplinarian. The students also had transportation there and back so everything was executed smoothly. After the rally, there was a meeting with students from each city. We talked partnership among various cities throughout PA to act as a constant force against the common issues in our districts. I’m excited to see where that goes!
CD: What do you think the goals are of the youth participating in such movements in Chester?
Williams: I think the goals of students in youth movements in Chester is to acquire the quality education that they are entitled to. There’s this stigma that Chester students don’t care about their education and I think we’ve proved them wrong. After the walkouts, we went back to school to further prove the point that Chester students do care about their education. Also, we just want to have the tools that we need to progress in life. We also want to be able to compete with students in other districts, academically and in society as a whole.
CD: What do you hope to see happen due to the efforts of Chester youth?
Williams: In the future, I want to see a Chester Student Union. I’ve been involved with Philadelphia’s student union and they are a very powerful force that has done a lot of good. Chester could definitely benefit from that and I am determined to make sure that that happens. I also want to see Chester Upland School District remain open. Currently, the state has promised to provide enough money until the end of the school year. After that, who knows what will happen. That’s why it is crucial that the financial crisis remains relevant. I’d also love to see the schools adequately funded so that the students can receive a top notch education.