The kids are all right

Shooting for state ed commission, teens launch Student Voice

Nikhil Goyal (second to left) and Matthew Resnick (right) speak at a panel at #140ed on Wednesday, with a live tweet from Resnick as the backdrop.

In suits and ties, they’re spending the summer in making speeches before thousands of people, bolstering their online presence, and pushing for changes to state governance.

But some of them aren’t even old enough to vote.

A handful of New York State high school students have banded together to create Student Voice, an organization devoted to empowering students. Their first project is to get representation on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission, where they say students are imperative to conversations about teacher evaluations and technology policy.

Two of the three students behind Student Voice come from Long Island high schools. The third, Matthew Resnick, is a senior at Manhattan’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

“It’s like a detective conduncting a criminal investigation without interviewing the victims,” said Zak Malamed, a recent high school graduate from Great Neck, about the commission. “We are the victims of the system’s flaws, so we should at least have a voice.”

The organization started this spring when Malamed realized that through the internet, he could connect to hundreds of other peers interested in education policy. That’s how he met Resnick and Nikhil Goyal, a senior at Syosset High School, who helped him launch the group.

“The trigger was realizing that I’m not the only one, I’m not an anomaly in wanting to change the education system as it is,” Malamed said.

In mid-May, Malamed organized a Twitter chat with the hashtag #StuVoice. He expected 10 or 15 students to participate, but the numbers were much larger, he said, and adults joined in as well. The experience made Malamed realize that students needed a central outlet to share their ideas about education, and their stories from the ground, and StuVoice.org was born. The site formally launched on Tuesday with short essays from high school and college students from across the country.

In the meantime, he began to collaborate with Resnick and Goyal on Student Voice’s big project — getting student representation on the New York Education Reform Commission. After the trio sent a letter to Cuomo making their case, the governor responded with a letter that said the commission had already capped out at 25 members but encouraged the students to show up at hearings.

Malamed said he was happy just to get a response.

“They responded in a week, and to respond to students in a week, you don’t expect the governor to do that,” he said before quickly adding, “Even though he should!”

The local group is also planning to focus on New York City’s 2013 mayoral election. Goyal, a 17-year-old Syosset resident, said he has not been a fan of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies, and he’ll be urging candidates to listen more to students about issues ranging from school closures to social media in the classroom.

Student Voice leader Nikhil Goyal, right, stopped by a GothamSchools party in June to meet teachers and education policy-makers.

He said the next mayor should look to Newark Mayor Cory Booker (with whom Goyal also disagrees on policy points) about how to engage with teens. Booker launched a social media site centered around Newark public policy last month.

“He’s giving teens a voice, and eventually they’re going to be voters,” Goyal said, who has an e-book, “One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School,” coming out next month and speaking engagements lined up in places as far-flung as Austria and India.

Malamed, Resnick, and Goyal all spoke today at the 92nd Street Y during a conference about the influence of social media on education.

Student Voice’s core members don’t always agree. In his book and in letters to the editor published in major newspapers, Goyal makes clear that is critical of current trends in education policy. He panned the trend of toughening teacher evaluations in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, and last week he wrote on his personal blog that the education commission’s New York City meeting had been “overshadowed by ridiculous charter school evangelists and corporate reformers.”

Resnick, on the other hand, subscribes to a more aggressive brand of education policy. In two Huffington Post pieces this spring, he advocated for tougher evaluations, crediting the group Educators 4 Excellence for informing his opinions.

Recently, a representative from Students For Education Reform, a group backed by 50CAN and Teach for America that mobilizes college students, reached out to Student Voice to discuss a partnership, Resnick said.

But Malamed said the group would never come out with a single policy platform — that’s not the point.

“We recognize that a student in Des Moines, Iowa, is going to have different needs and different views than a student in New York City,” Malamed said.

And although starting a national organization won’t look too shabby on a college application, the University of Maryland-bound teenager said that’s not the point, either.

“When you’re a student, a lot of it can become about resume-building and a lot of egos can get in the way,” he said. “So we’re trying to put that behind us.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.