DALLAS — It’s a fact of life.
Girls get their periods.
Periods arrive at unexpected times - quite often at school.
It causes anxiety and embarrassment and nobody likes to talk about it.
“I will get my period all of a sudden and I struggle a lot,” said Jeorgina Gonzalez, a senior at Dallas’s Skyline High School.
“You go to the restroom and you have to ask someone like, ‘Oh, do you have a menstrual product I can use?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t have one because I’m not in my days.’”
Her experience is one most anyone who is, or has been, a teenage girl can relate to.
And research shows it can have an impact on learning.
“They will more than likely either leave campus, ask or wait around in the restroom for somebody to provide them products, or do what we call ‘MacGyvering’ a product - making their own product,” said Brooke Lopez, facilitator of the Skyline High School chapter of Ignite - a leadership program for girls.
“In every scenario, we are either seeing time spent away from the classroom, or we’re seeing a potential health risk because they don’t have the appropriate product they need.”
Ignite teaches young women about political processes and encourages civic engagement.
Like a lot of inner-city schools, the majority of Skyline students are from low-income families who might struggle to afford the purchase of tampons or pads.
The burden is unique to girls, and students like Aylin Segura, a 2018 Skyline graduate, didn’t think that was right.
“Adding the extra layer of having to worry about your menstrual cycle, that’s a burden we wanted to lift,” Segura said.
They wanted Skyline to provide a dispenser of free pads and tampons in at least one bathroom on campus, but the only way to make that happen was to openly talk about their periods to classmates and school administrators.
Segura was among the first to do it.
“I think it just takes one student not being embarrassed about talking about it to create such a safe space,” Segura said.
Lopez helped the girls collect research about menstrual equity.
When a Dallas ISD board of trustees member came to speak to an Ignite meeting, Segura made sure she heard their presentation.
That trustee was impressed enough to introduce them to other Dallas ISD decision-makers who signed off on a single dispenser of free period products as a pilot program in 2019.
But the students weren’t satisfied with just one dispenser in one Skyline bathroom.
They tracked usage, cost, and impact.
Within just two years, Ignite was able to convince the district to vastly expand the program.
Every high school in Dallas ISD and every newly constructed middle school will now have a dispenser of free pads and tampons.
“We really didn’t expect it to take off this fast,” Segura said. “It’s definitely something to be proud of.”
Segura is now a student at Dallas College working to obtain an associate degree in biology.
Gonzalez is planning to major in political science at the University of North Texas in Denton.
She is now intrigued by the political process.
"This actually inspired me to teach my younger sister about politics and about how women need representation," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and Segura said Ignite wouldn't have achieved its goal without strong guidance from Lopez and former Skyline teacher Martha Williams.
But Lopez said the girls deserve all the credit.
“I don’t know if these women understand how big it is that they were able to accomplish something like this so quickly,” Lopez said. "It's a legacy for all young women to come."
They not only recognize the potential power of their voices, but they've also learned that solving a problem often begins by talking about it.