Report back on Hey Class Protest – Support the THRIVE Act

We’re thrilled to report back on the recent protest led by the fifth-grade Hey class of BWC Shule in support of the THRIVE Act, in partnership with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and with support from Teens Acting for Social Change (TASC). Our voices rang out in front of the Massachusetts State House on March 3, as we took a stand for fairness and equity in education in this solidarity action.

The focus of our protest was clear. As inheritors of a Jewish tradition that deeply values the right to education, and fights for mutual aid and solidarity, the students advocated for the end to high-stakes testing and the removal of the MCAS graduation requirement. For those unfamiliar, the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) graduation requirement mandates that students achieve a passing grade on the standardized test to earn their high school diploma. However, this requirement poses significant barriers for many students, particularly those who are still learning English and who have specific learning disabilities.

The Hey class prepared a lot with the thoughtful guidance of their teacher, Mateo Rojas, with my coordination as Education Director. The Hey class has spent the year learning about the Jewish legacy in the labor movement, the civil rights movement and gender justice movements as they also grapple with what this legacy means for them today. To explore these questions they met with the MTA vice president, Deb McCarthy, and the MTA’s Director of their grassroots campaign, Paul McClory, to learn about the issue and the campaign. Additionally, Zohar Berman joined the class to lead a text study about the Jewish roots and commitment to access to education and the critical importance of supporting the success of young people as they grow. The learning helped them as they connected their own experiences as fifth graders taking tests to the experiences of students across the state.  

By supporting the THRIVE Act, the Hey class sought to ensure that every student has a fair chance to succeed regardless of their individual circumstances.

The protest itself was a dynamic and impactful event.  A gathering of about 50 people including the students, families, BWC members and community members met in front of the State House, with enthusiasm and determination. 

Our protest featured a skit telling the history of the MCAS starting from its inception in the 1990s and its subsequent impact, all highlighting the importance of the THRIVE Act and the need for change.  A range of speakers shared their experience including a teen from TASC, a Hey student and Deb McCarthy, the Vice President of the MTA who all described the stress of the test, its consuming preparation and the impact of high stakes testing on schools and communities. We ended the protest with chants led by the Hey students such as: Hey hey, ho ho!/ The grad requirement has got to go! and One!…we are the people / Two!…a little bit louder/ Three!… we want Ed justice/  More, more, more, more.

The Hey class’s efforts did not go unnoticed. The media coverage included Channel 7, the Boston Herald, and WBZ Radio – all capturing the words of our Heyniks, the spirit of our protest and amplifying the message of education justice to a wider audience. This visibility is helpful as the Massachusetts legislature is debating the THRIVE Act during this legislative session.

It was a proud moment for the students and a joyful collaboration with the MTA. Work on the campaign will continue throughout Shule over Purim. The Zayen (7th/8th graders) and Giml (3rd graders) students integrated the story of MCAS into the student written purim shpil.  There will be a chance to sign postcards in support of the THRIVE act at the carnival.The students are excited to support something that they have personal experience with and the fight for education justice benefits from strong partnerships between youth, community and unions. Thank you to all who supported our students in this endeavor. Together, we can make a difference.

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