Brandywine high schoolers form group to gather support for students in district

Published 11:58 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — A local student group is working to keep its student body engaged and involved in the district’s policy-making process.

Brandywine High School senior Kiersten Colby and several of her classmates formed We The Students, a student group aiming to show support for the school’s LGBTQIA+ community, oppose censorship of books, curriculum, and communication and protect the future of the school district.

“We are a group of Brandywine students who want to see politics removed from the School Board,” reads the group’s statement found on fliers distributed to board of education meeting attendees. “Brandywine is a public school and it needs to stay that way. We are here to peacefully yet informatively express that this community stands together as a whole. We want to see the LGBTQIA+ community supported, we want to not see books banned in the library, and most importantly we want to protect our rights as 21st century learners. 

“As a group, we all are of different backgrounds but we all stand united. ‘United we stand, together we fall. It is time that We the Students show that.”

The group was formed following the district’s Jan. 23 Board of Education meeting, where the newly-configured board established several new committees on curriculum, sex ed., sexually explicit materials and more. The group name We The Students is a reference to the Berrien County “We the Parents” organization which has an emphasis on parent rights and school district transparency. 

“I think for me, especially being an LGBTQ+ member, that they don’t support me and they don’t support a lot of my friends and their identities,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s safe to keep them on our school board.”

According to Colby, what started as an idea posted in a group chat turned into a student organization geared toward giving students a voice and a seat at the table.

“We all realized that we were kind of on the same page and then a couple months passed and then they actually started doing stuff with the school board,” she said. “A couple of us decided to create a group that would come up with ideas for protesting and speeches at meetings and just getting our ideologies out there.”

We The Students made its presence known during Monday’s board of education meeting. The group distributed fliers announcing the group, greeted community members in attendance and several members gave speeches during the public comment portion of the meeting. Colby said the community response was positive.

“We passed out some papers and there was a lot of positive feedback from people and we received a lot of positive comments about the speeches we gave earlier. So far we’ve had a lot of positive feedback and that’s been really cool.”

Among We The Students’ supporters is Kiersten’s father, Jeremy, who also spoke during public comment. Jeremy, who also has a son in the district, was proud of his daughter for speaking up for what she believes in.

“I love it,” he said. “Both of my kids have been involved in various different things like this. My son actually spoke at the last meeting and I’m very proud of them.”

Jeremy said he believes that there is a lot of divisiveness surrounding Brandywine and that he is glad that the group is striving to be part of the solution.

“I think there’s a lot of concern and the fact that my kids who go to the school are being a part of taking ownership of that… that’s the sort of people I hope they’re gonna be.”