Junior Ashley Spillman represents West at Gateway2Change panel


Courtesy of Ashley Spillman

Students from schools around the St. Louis area discuss Gateway2Change and race relations in their schools. Junior Ashley Spillman was one of five students in the region to be chosen to talk. “We were basically there to show the good impact Gateway2Change has had on Missouri, so knowing that I’m showing these states that this is something that they should be doing too is really cool,” Spillman said.

Carly Anderson and Sabrina Bohn

As a member of Gateway2Change, junior Ashley Spillman was one of five students in the St. Louis area selected to speak at a panel about Gateway2Change for education commissioners from around the country on Nov. 13 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.  

“They were essentially asked to serve on this panel for the Council of Chief State School Officers Annual Policy Forum,” senior principal Dr. Kate Piffel said. “It’s a 20 or 25 minute panel where the students talk, but it’s also a chance to talk about Gateway2Change, their schools and how that’s shaped them.”

Gateway2Change was first created to help solve conflicts regarding race in St. Louis schools in light of Michael Brown’s death and the turmoil that followed. This, along with events like the Stockely trial, inspired Spillman to be an advocate for change in her community.

“At West, we didn’t really talk about any of those things, and I want to make that change. I want things to be talked about because it’s not something you can just ignore,” Spillman said. “For me, it’s important because it’s standing up and giving a voice to people who don’t have one.”

One student each from Orchard Farm, University City, Fox, Riverview Gardens and Parkway West was chosen to participate in the panel.

“I think I learned a lot about the different schools because I’ve never been inside Riverview or inside of University City, and I’ve never seen their school environment,” Spillman said. “It was just super interesting because they purposely chose schools that are very different.”

Spillman was unaware of her inclusion in the panel until she received an email from Dr. Kate Piffel with the news in late October.

“I was kind of unsure [at first], but Dr. Piffel was really excited about it,” Spillman said. “I was super nervous and super excited because I just wanted to be able to make an impact on this group of people, so they can create additional groups for people and make changes in their schools.”

Before the panel, the five students went to an informational meeting on Nov. 3 that prepared them for the event.

“We basically just met with the commissioner for Missouri who is going to be leading the discussion, and we got a feel for the actual event and what we’ll be asked,” Spillman said.  “There’s one [question] that asks what we do through Gateway2Change because these people want to start expanding it and having it as a more than a St. Louis group.”

Participating in the panel allowed Spillman to talk and meet with the commissioners outside Missouri.

“There was a commissioner from Utah who told us about all of these different things that their schools have done, like one school built a food pantry for refugee kids because they knew didn’t have access to food and they made it open to everyone,” Spillman said. “They’re just doing amazing things in different cities and different states around the the United States.”

During the panel, the students were asked questions about Gateway2Change and the impact it has had on student relationships in their school community as well as their hopes for the program’s future.  

“This is the fourth year [of Gateway2Change], and we’re basically building the foundation, so we are preparing for all of the new people and the impact they’ll make, which will hopefully be so much bigger than ours,” Spillman said.