#students | #parents | What Are You Doing to Change Your School?

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What are things that you think your school does well? What makes you proud of your school and school community? Are there classes, teachers, clubs or events that make you feel connected to your school?

On the flip side, what are things that you think your school could do better? Are there topics you wish you could learn in classes that aren’t being offered? Are there beliefs that you wish were embraced by your school leadership, teachers or peers? Are there policies you think need to be changed, voices that need to be heard or general improvements that need to be made?

In “Lock-Ins and Walkouts: The Students Changing City Schools From the Inside,” Eliza Shapiro writes about New York City high schoolers who are organizing protests, joining student activism groups and fighting for policy changes. The article covers six teenagers’ stories. Here are two of them:

Chassidy Titley, 17, Harlem

Chassidy wasn’t nervous about getting in trouble when she and her classmates locked themselves in a building at her prestigious Riverdale private school, sleeping on an air mattress in her principal’s office for three nights in a row.

She was only worried that her group, Students of Color Matter, would be ignored in their fight against what they believe is a racist school culture at Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx.

But by the second day of the protest, prompted by a video in which white students at a party recorded themselves using a racist epithet, the school was surrounded by news trucks.

Chassidy was in charge of managing the group’s Instagram account and coordinating with the news media. Fieldston’s principal eventually agreed to most of the students’ demands, including racial bias training for staff and more classes about nonwhite cultures.

Now, Chassidy wants to help black and Hispanic students at other elite, mostly white schools push for changes.

“There needs to be a standard across private schools for students of color and the history they are taught,” she said. “Every private school should be progressive.”

Stephanie Pacheco, 15, South Bronx

Stephanie is beginning to understand why she ended up in a high school she never wanted to attend.

She loved going to school and had solid grades, so Stephanie imagined she’d land at one of her dream schools.

But she consulted a hulking high school directory that had incorrect or outdated information. Home was not a peaceful place to get work done, and Stephanie found herself finishing schoolwork and applications in public libraries that always seemed to close too early. She discovered that other students had been studying for the high-stakes specialized high school entrance exam for months before she even found out the schools existed.

“It was so frustrating for me to realize how easy it was to make uninformed decisions,” Stephanie said.

Now, at Teens Take Charge, Stephanie is fighting for what she believes will be a fairer high school admissions process.

Segregation, she said, “is a barrier, no matter how smart you are, no matter how much work you put in.”

Her goal for the next year is to expand the conversation about school segregation beyond progressive pockets of Manhattan and Brooklyn and into her own neighborhood, where she sometimes encounters skepticism about the prospect of more white students coming to school in the Bronx.

“It’s about time that the Bronx starts prospering,” she said.

Choose at least one other story to read based on what interests you most. To help you choose, here are the other students featured in the article.

  • Toby Paperno, who is focused on challenging how New York City views and handles school segregation.

  • Alliyah Logan, who is questioning the role of the police and surveillance in schools.

  • Vicki Zheng, who wants to see more Asian and Asian-American representation in school clubs and academic classes.

  • Obrian Rosario, who wants it to be easier for students to access and apply to specialized schools.

If you have time, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Did you connect with any of the teenagers’ stories or experiences in the article? Do you think any of the issues they discussed apply to your school as well? The article focuses on the issues of segregation, admission procedures, access to specialized schools, police presence in schools, diverse representation in clubs and ethnic studies. The Times has also covered student activism around gun control and climate change. How do you feel about these issues? Are there other issues that are relevant to your school community?

  • Have you ever taken action to make a change in your school or community? How have you gone about making that change? Have you ever participated in a protest or walkout or joined a student activism group? If yes, what resources and support did you need to make that happen? How did you get access to those resources? Who organized the action and how did they get the word out and get people involved? What was the outcome or response from peers and adults?

  • Do you think students should be responsible for making changes in their schools or community? Why or why not? Do you think there are dangers or concerns with young people being activists? Is student activism something that the adults around you embrace and accept, or is it something that is not allowed or is frowned upon? Why?

  • There is a long history of student activism in the United States and around the world. Why do you think young people in 2020 are interested in activism? Do you think this political and social moment is similar or different from other historical moments? Why do you think it is oftentimes young people who lead movements for change?

  • Who are your student activist heroes? Are there young people in your community, school or around the world who you look to for guidance and leadership? Why are they your role models? What do you admire about their message or actions?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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