Back to School: Pencils, Paper, and Period-Preparedness

Photo Credit:  Caroline Sterr  -   charter school teacher whose desk drawer contains hygiene products she buys for her students.

Photo Credit: Caroline Sterr - charter school teacher whose desk drawer contains hygiene products she buys for her students.

Do you remember the excitement and anxiety of the back-to-school season as a middle school student? Will your friends be in the same classes? Will you have enough time to get from Algebra to Spanish?

Are you prepared for your period?

Many students experience their first period during this sensitive age, and others who have already gotten their first period are still familiarizing themselves with menstrual hygiene habits. If a student gets her period in class and does not have supplies, they may not know where to turn and may experience shame in seeking support because of the menstrual stigma. Product availability in schools is crucial to minimize the loss of valuable learning time.  

Caroline Sterr, eighth-grade teacher at an urban charter school, has taken action to reduce students’ anxiety and create a period-positive environment both within her classroom and beyond. Caroline begins each school year with an open, honest conversation about periods with her entire class—boys and girls. During this discussion, Caroline shares that she maintains a supply of feminine hygiene products in her classroom, and these products are available to any student who needs them, no questions asked. Caroline invites her students and colleagues to share this information so that even students beyond her own classes can come to Miss Sterr’s classroom for support.

In addition to maintaining a supply of tampons and panty liners, which costs Caroline approximately $40 per year, she allows students to borrow a discreet, trendy pouch to transport these items to the restroom. The trust, compassion, and support that Caroline provides undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on students, building their confidence and fostering their educational pursuits.

Caroline recognizes that “for many of my students, financial barriers, fears of awkward conversations with parents, and the inconsistency of a middle schooler’s cycle are all huge issues.” When these barriers are compounded by gaps in Sex Ed, students often end up being uninformed (or misinformed) and unprepared. Caroline asserts, “In general, schools expect parents to educate their children on how their bodies are changing, and parents expect schools to handle it. Unfortunately, most of the ‘education’ comes from friends who aren't always reliable or knowledgeable sources. Both schools and parents need more resources to be able to partner together and better educate our kids.”

When reflecting on her efforts, Caroline says, “I like to believe that—even if they never need any supplies from my drawer—it helps the girls to know that I'm here for them and care about them as humans, not just test-takers or students. For the boys, I think it's beneficial that open conversations happen in front of them so that the taboo can end. It's important to me that both the boys and girls know that it's just a part of life.”

We applaud Caroline’s advocacy and are honored to share her story of Being a Rose within her classroom and community. We wish her—and all educators and students—a wonderful start to the school year!

By: Aanee Nichols

Caroline Sterr  - 8th grade teacher and health equity advocate.

Caroline Sterr - 8th grade teacher and health equity advocate.