Getting an equitable education remains a struggle for too many New Yorkers, said the #DegreesNYC Youth Council while launching a policy agenda calling for reforms earlier this month.
“The experiences of youth are important and deserve to be front and center,” said Youth Council Co-Coordinator and Policy Intern, Carolina Cortes-Rivera at the online launch, which was organized and run by high school and college students from across the city. The council’s recommendations focused on three areas: accessibility, inclusivity and justice.
Not surprisingly, the young people identified access—to everything from food and housing to the internet—as a major issue for students from low-income backgrounds over the last year.
“During the pandemic we realized it wasn’t enough to reform our education system,” declared Youth Council Co-Coordinator and college student Darleny Suriel. “We must reimagine our education system. Reimagine an education system that does not wait for a once-in-a-century pandemic to happen in order to provide students with the digital devices they need for school.”
The inclusivity platform focuses on creating spaces where students feel safe, respected and valued. That means fair testing and grading policies as well as a staff and curriculum that reflect all students’ backgrounds.
“As someone who goes to a predominantly white institution I would feel much more inspired to keep pursuing my studies in engineering if there were more females and professors of color in my school and if my curriculum focused on STEM personalities that relate to me,” said Rosalía Minyety, Youth Council Coalition Lead and a Columbia student. Minyety added that she wouldn’t have known about pioneering NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson if not for the movie Hidden Figures.
The justice platform calls for dismantling racist systems by investing in education rather than investing in police presence in schools which enforce the school to prison pipeline, embracing restorative justice practices and supporting youth leadership. Marlahna Miller, Policy Lead and sophomore at City College, recalled a traumatic incident at her NYC public high school as an example of over-policing.
“One student had a mental breakdown a few months before graduating. The whole school went under lockdown while they used the police to find the student. He was then roughly handled and dragged out the building,” she sadly recalled.
While the policy agenda calls for changes, the event also recognized school staffers who have gone the extra mile to overcome the challenges of the last year.
“I’m lucky to be part of a high school that really tries to make students feel more connected,” said Giselle Verdugo, a junior at Frank McCourt High School. “I would like to shout-out to all the teachers out there, whether they’re teaching at school or at home because truly they do play a big role in supporting us students.”
#DegreesNYC is a data-informed collective impact movement that unites administrators, government, community members, teachers and young people in working to ensure young people of all backgrounds have equal access to a postsecondary credential and successful career pathway. Co-founded in 2016 by Goddard Riverside’s Options Center, it’s now an independent entity residing at Goddard that brings together people from more than 100 organizations.