Long Island elementary students push for inclusion by lobbying to change colors of school bathrooms

Kristin Thorne Image
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
5th-graders push for inclusion by lobbying to change bathroom colors
Kristin Thorne has more on the effort to promote acceptance at their Long Island school.

PORT WASHINGTON, Long Island (WABC) -- A group of fifth grade students at John Philip Sousa Elementary School in Port Washington lobbied to have the colors of the student bathrooms changed this year from pink and blue to more neutral colors.

"There's no such thing as really a gender color," student Eve Benjamin said.

The idea first came to student Annie Denby and she shared it with her friends, including Eve, last year.

Student Natasha Caffrey also got on board. She said she always felt uncomfortable with the bright, pink color of the girls' bathroom.

"I don't really like how this is so girly," Natasha said of how she felt being in the bathroom. "I don't really feel like that."

Principal Meg Sheehan said the students stopped her in the hallway last March and asked, "Why are our bathrooms pink and blue?" Sheehan recounted. "We think sometimes girls like blue and sometimes boys like pink," Sheehan said the students told her.

Sheehan said the students asked her if they could change the colors of the bathroom.

"I wanted to take a stand for how people see people," student Declan Straus said.

Sheehan told them they would have to write persuasive essays explaining why they believed the change was necessary.

"They showed up on my doorstep the next morning with their essays in hand," she said.

"She thought it was a great idea," student Olivia Coppola said of Sheehan's reaction.

Sheehan said she told the students they would have to present their request to a panel of parent leaders for the school.

The students' teachers helped the students during recess put together a Power Point presentation.

"They had a really compelling case for why the bathrooms needed to be changed," Sheehan said.

The parent committee approved the request.

The next step was figuring out the new colors.

The school sent out a poll to all the students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The color choices were light green, light purple or white with a red stripe.

White and red - the school's colors - was selected.

The bathrooms were painted during the summer and welcomed students back this year.

"I'm really proud of us," Annie said. "I'm really glad that this happened and that we accomplished it."

Natasha had the idea to put a quote by a woman, in this case Helen Keller, on the wall of the boys' bathroom and a quote by a man, American author H. Jackson Brown Jr., in the girls' bathroom.

Sheehan said administrators believe the impetus for the students may have come from a Yale University emotional intelligence curriculum, which the school has been instructing the students in since kindergarten.

Sheehan said she also likes to believe that the core values of the school - kindness, compassion and confidence - inspired the students.

The group of students, which now calls themselves "The Kid Power Group," is trying to figure out what cause it will champion next.

"Not only adults can make change, but kids can too," Natasha said.

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