Shaping Menstrual Equity at CCMS


Sofia Pezo, Staff Writer

Dee Montealvo had one goal when she started working at Culver City Middle School in 2019: To be more active in her student’s lives.

Even though she became a math teacher, Ms. Montealvo studied Asian American studies and political science in college. She says that politics and activism are both really important to her, and that when she used to teach ninth grade math she would build up her students to become activists. But it was when she was moved to teach sixth and seventh grade math at CCMS that she realized she wanted to do more. She started thinking about what she could do to educate her students about current social movements.

“I figured, students are going to start menstruating and we [will want] to educate them,” she says. “We [want] to empower them, we [want] to end the stigma… not a lot of people know there’s period poverty.”

PERIOD Movement is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to end the global period stigma and period poverty using their three pillars: Service, education and advocacy. According to the PERIOD website, there are currently 43 U.S. states and 35 countries that have PERIOD chapters. Chapters are small groups that hold workshops and packaging parties. They strive to educate their communities on the global period stigma and poverty. 

So, at the beginning of the first semester of the 2019-2020 school year, Ms. Montealvo hosted two lunch meetings to invite middle school students to join the new PERIOD chapter she was starting at CCMS, which she named Period @CulverCityMS. She also created an Instagram account for the chapter and a Google Classroom. Currently, the Google Classroom has over twenty middle school students and CCMS alumni who were all eager to become advocates when they found out about the chapter. It didn’t take long for those students to begin stepping up and begin to make large strides.

“I started to hear stories from my students,” Ms. Montealvo explains. “They would tell me that they had accidents and had to leave class to go to the nurse’s office. My students also told me that the period product dispensers in locker rooms and bathrooms at CCMS were empty.”

One comment on the Google Classroom from a chapter member says, “I have not seen period products or even dispensers for them in any of the restrooms on campus, at all, since I started at CCMS two years ago”.

The fact that the Health Center on the campus had period products available to students but the school bathrooms did not was something that Ms. Montealvo knew the chapter was going to have to change. In November of 2019, she set up a table at the Culver City Farmer’s Market to begin advertising to the community about the chapter. There, she collected signatures for the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2019, an act made to “increase the availability and affordability of menstrual hygiene products for individuals with limited access, and for other purposes”. 

Thanks to a large and gracious donation from Bea and Lea Koch, the owners of a local bookstore called The Ripped Bodice, Ms. Montealvo’s room became full of overflowing tables and bins of pads and tampons of various sizes, which the chapter then packaged into small paper bags and delivered to each middle school classroom and bathroom.

“[They] would be right next to the door or the hall pass, and whoever needed it could just go,” she says. “We always need to remember not to call them ‘feminine products’; there’s transgender youth in our school. We want to make sure there are also in the gender neutral bathrooms.” 

The chapter held multiple ‘packaging parties’ in the Panther Plaza during lunch throughout the year, but even still Ms. Montealvo’s room was still full of products by early March of 2020. By then, she says that it “became normal to see pads and tampons everywhere”. There were more than enough products to refill each classroom and bathroom’s bag throughout the school year.

When word came out in early March with the possibility that the school could close due to the pandemic, the chapter began packaging more bags to pass out to families who were not able to afford any products. This became a shocking reality as millions of people lost their jobs during the pandemic. Ms. Montealvo’s own students, on the last days of in-person school, began asking her for products to take home for their families. 

Even though the pandemic hit hard on many people, period activists have taken this opportunity to continue advocating and fighting for change. Most recently, on February 2nd of this year, PERIOD announced their support for California Assembly member Christina Garcia’s Menstrual Equity for All Act – AB-367, a new bill that would mandate California schools, universities, and federal, state and municipal buildings to provide free period products in 50% of their restrooms. The bill was a huge win for period activists all over the country, not just in California. PERIOD is just one of the many organizations who have pledged their support for the bill.

Ms. Montealvo called it “big, big wonderful news”.

“Why should we have to pay for [period products]?” she says, talking about the period dispensers in public restrooms. “This is just like toilet paper. I mean, you would complain if there wasn’t toilet paper in the bathroom.”

Period activists have not stopped there. After the pandemic began, activists were able to repeal the Tampon Tax in California for two whole years, which was another huge win that the media was strangely silent about. The first COVID relief in 2020 also included menstrual supplies, and the chapter at CCMS has continued to distribute period supplies to any families in need. Other countries such as Scotland and New Zealand have recently announced that they will make period products free (for New Zealand, specifically free products schools). In the past years, saying the words ‘period’, ‘pad’ or ‘tampon’ have become less of a taboo and more often to hear, and more people have started to become aware of the global stigma.

Despite all the big news and important advances, being online has impacted the chapter greatly, as there can be no in-person packaging parties or meetings.

“It’s really hard to have the same energy this year because it’s more work and online,” Ms. Montealvo explains. “We can’t be that community, but we can still work with the resources we have.”

In the 2019-2020 school year, the chapter became widely known throughout the entire school, which Ms. Montealvo credits for all the products the chapter was able to distribute at the beginning of quarantine. The chapter was also able to donate products to Backpacks for Kids and served a total of over 500 periods during the school year. Ms. Montealvo has also started to come up with ideas about how to expand the chapter’s influence.

“We also have to think about fifth graders who also menstruate,” she pointed out. She’s even thought about how she can convince more teachers to be a part of the movement. “Maybe in every hall [at CCMS], there’s a designated person so that students don’t have to go all the way to the nurse’s office.”

Ms. Montealvo also would like to credit the CCMS counselors and administration for supporting the chapter. “When I [first] talked to them about it, people were like ‘What? What do you want to do?’ But for [them] to have faith in us, to believe in us and to support us, that’s what we need. Who knew we would be able to serve so many periods?”

The chapter did receive another large donation from The Ripped Bodice earlier this year, this time including vast amounts of period underwear. All of the students at Period @CulverCityMS can’t wait to return to school, and Ms. Montealvo is looking forward to bringing back the chapter’s energy. She is very hopeful for the future and can’t wait to get back to packaging with her students. 

“It’s there, it’s available, it’s free and we’re going to keep doing that great work,” she says proudly.