Columns » Queer & There

Joseph Shelton: Committed to community and lifting student voices



Many underestimate Joseph Shelton in his campaign for a spot on Colorado Springs School District 11’s Board of Education. Although young, barely 23 years old, Shelton has years of experience serving the community, and his strong passion for education keeps him determined to serve on the board.

Having logged thousands of volunteer hours (more than 3,500) with the Colorado Springs Police Department, Memorial Hospital, Educating Children of Color Inc. and more, Shelton’s selflessness and passion seem limitless. In addition to his volunteer work, he is the founder and vice president of Breaking Boundaries, an LGBTQ organization that hosts Drag Story Time, and is also the program assistant at Inside Out Youth Services, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ youth. Driving his commitment to the community is his determination to overcome adversity and pass the microphone to young people, whom he believes should have a say about their futures.

Born and raised in Colorado Springs, Shelton attended Madison Elementary and Irving Middle School, and graduated from Palmer High School in 2015. It’s this deep-rooted connection to D-11 and his dedication to inclusive and involved education that inspired him to announce his campaign for the D-11 board back in February.

It was a watershed moment for Joseph when Irving Middle School closed in 2009. At that time, the administration largely prevented students from expressing their concerns, leaving students like Shelton, then in sixth grade, feeling separated from friends, trusted teachers and a sense of normalcy. He now runs his campaign intending to make students feel not only that they have voices, but that adults will listen and genuinely take their concerns into account.

One of Shelton’s proposals includes allowing five students, one each from Coronado, Doherty, Mitchell, Palmer and the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus to act as representatives for their schools. Not only would they be allowed to voice their concerns to the D-11 Board of Education, but together they would hold one vote (the majority would determine the vote) for board issues.
Shelton’s campaign platform also includes tackling the issue of bullying in D-11. He intends to prioritize holding teachers and faculty members accountable while also providing support systems not only for victims of bullying, but also those displaying bullying behavior.

Shelton also wants to provide diversity training for teachers to ensure appropriate relationships with a variety of students, including LGBTQ youths and immigrant students, whether documented or undocumented. This training would operate through Educating Children of Color Inc.’s Diversity University, which is sponsored by Pikes Peak Community College.

Shelton also understands how high college tuition costs deter students from seeking higher education, and as a result, he is in favor of giving high school students access to obtaining licenses to practice trades such as plumbing and auto mechanics, by graduation. This would provide students the opportunity to jump into a higher-paying job rather than earning minimum wage, which typically is what is available for high school graduates.

Not having the money for higher education is a legitimate concern for upcoming generations, and Shelton wants to offer every opportunity to students who seek college degrees. Harrison School District 2 and PPCC recently partnered with two nonprofits to provide full-ride college scholarships for hundreds of students. Shelton says, “I love the idea of the plan. ... I love the fact that this program doesn’t focus on the high-GPA-achieving students but the students who worked hard and achieved the 2.5 GPA. I would hope that we can find a common ground and perhaps find a way to bring this program to many other school districts, including District 11. The fact that this program focuses on low-income areas is a major plus in my belief.”

Working at Inside Out, Shelton has a unique perspective on what teenagers experience. He explains, “I can see where these students are coming from. No, I don’t have teaching or parenting experience, but I have the experience of being in the schools. I have experience in seeing how some students are mistreated.”

Shelton only just celebrated his 23rd birthday and is openly gay. Many label these characteristics weaknesses, but for Joseph, these are his strengths. “I do believe that having one person who says, ‘I see where you’re coming from, I do support you.’ [That] means the world to every child.” Shelton vows to approach this job with transparency and understanding, wishing only to help D-11 schools provide the utmost care and opportunities for every student.

The election for the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education takes place on Nov. 5.

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