When student Nikita Tayal began her presentation for the New Hope-Solebury School District’s Board of School Directors during its public meeting this June, she started with a call for empathy.
“How would you feel if you weren’t given time to celebrate the most important holiday of the year for you?” This question, posed to lend the perspective of underrepresented populations, culminated her efforts to request that schools be closed in recognition of the Diwali holiday. Those efforts included assembling a student petition, examining other school districts and their policies, researching the advocacy of other student agents of change, meeting with the board’s Policy Advisory Committee, and finally, making a public request on behalf of the school’s growing Hindu community.
According to Dr. Charles Lentz, New Hope-Solebury’s superintendent, “In our school community, it is important to us that students feel their voices are valued. We actively engage them in our committees and teach them how to advocate appropriately through the system to get what they are seeking.”
During her presentation, Tayal emphasized the importance of Diwali and its designation as the most sacred Hindu holiday. She argued that with eight hours of the day in classes, hours of homework, and time spent at athletic practices, students trying to recognize the holiday when it falls on a school day are left with approximately 15 minutes to celebrate. Or, alternatively, a daunting amount of work to make up.
As the board deliberated, special attention was called to the increasing population of students who celebrate Diwali, an estimated 5-10% of enrolled students. Ultimately, the request was approved.