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PHS senior speaks on equity at Board of Regents meeting

Amya talking
Poughkeepise High School senior Amya West talks about her experience at a recent conference on equity and subsequent presentation to PHS staff.

Board of Regents meeting

Two weeks ago, PHS senior Amya West spoke to PHS’s school faculty about equity issues. Based on her leadership, Dutchess BOCES asked her to join a presentation to the New York State Board of Regents on Monday during its monthly meeting.

West, as you may recall, participated with several PHS students and students and educators from around the area in the “Designing Equitable Schools: A Youth and Adult Leadership Conference,” held virtually in May as part of BOCES’ Center for Educational Equity and Social Justice.

“I learned that other students struggle as well with becoming activists and using their own voice and to not only use my voice to help with issues similar to mine but other issues as well,” West said.

She shared her experience of speaking to her school’s faculty and said, “Though I’m leaving shortly, I promised I would work alongside them and open the door for other students to go and help.”

After her presentation, West said that it was a bit “nerve-wracking” when she was first asked.

“I was very surprised Ms. (Jenny) Schinella asked me - I didn’t know I’d be the only one,” she said. “I felt a little scared but also honored that I was the only one chosen. It felt like I was doing something good.”

Schinella attended the PHS staff meeting where West and other PHS students spoke.

“It was special to see how it evolved and how it is working,” Schinella said, adding that all the students did well. “One reason we selected Amya is because of her comfort and grace in presenting what can be a real challenging conversation with adults. She did it in such a poised, confident way that was non-threatening to staff.”

West said she is working with Principal Kelleyann Royce-Giron and others to create ideas to help move the district along and is also trying to understand the funding mechanisms so she can “try to reinstate some clubs that we haven’t had in a while.”

This week, the district enrolled in services from the center for next school year.

Dutchess BOCES was one of four school districts statewide selected to present on the work being done to advance the board policy dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion. The other districts were Greece Central School District, New York City Department of Education and Eastern-Western Suffolk BOCES.

Regent Frances G. Wills commended all the participants for their efforts.

“I fully offer my respect to the presenters because I sit on an equity task force at Putnam-Westchester BOCES and I’m aware of the courage it takes to do this work to have students stand up and have courageous conversations.”

She also sent an email to Dutchess BOCES Superintendent Richard Hooley after the presentation. In part, she wrote, “I hope they (Cora Stempel and Jenny Schinella) will also let student Amya West know how moved we were by her reflection.”

Amya, you showed how a student can take what they’ve learned and turn it into action. You have shown other PCSD students that they can and do have a voice.