The day after the presidential election, Ian Levy started class the same way he normally does. The South Bronx guidance counselor invited students to share anything on their minds. A discussion erupted when a student responded with just one word: “Trump.”
“They’re all feeling a lack of value and issues around their voice, where does their voice fit in the landscape of this new presidency?” said Levy, who works at New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II.
Levy knows something about helping students find their voice. His school office is home to a recording studio where students learn academic lessons and work out their personal concerns through hip-hop. Now, he said, they are pouring their questions and feelings into a song about the election they hope to finish in the coming weeks.
“A lot of them had questions about what they could do moving forward,” Levy said. “Now they can use their culture to push back.”
Levy isn’t the only one trying to create a space for students to express themselves. Educators across the city are looking for ways to engage students and channel their fear and frustration into action.
“In This Together” is another attempt to do just that. It’s a “spontaneous field day” in Prospect Park this Friday, when schools are closed for Veterans Day, organized by Beam Center, a nonprofit that partners with 20 local schools.
Brian Cohen, the group’s executive director and co-founder, said he was inspired by a text he got Wednesday morning from one of his staffers, who was visiting Brooklyn International High School, a school for new immigrants. “Mood here is somber,” it read. “Kids are afraid.”
“That just took me down all the way,” Cohen said, and it made him want to organize an activity for those students. “We needed to think about something very quickly that we could do to give them a break from those anxieties and let them know that there is a ‘we,’” he said.
Since the organization focuses on collaboration and hands-on projects, he decided to turn it into a day of fun. “This is not a protest, it’s a celebration,” Cohen said. The event flyer — circulated among his network of Brooklyn schools and international schools citywide — promises games, food and a paper balloon launch.
Cohen’s hope, he said, is that it will bring together kids of different worlds and remind them that “they live in a community of support, and that the outcome of an election will not change the way New York City is as a home for them.”
Sarah Camiscoli, who helped start the student-led social justice group IntegrateNYC4Me, is trying to create a similar feeling of inclusiveness for her students at Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters.
After receiving a flood of worried text messages on election night, Camiscoli gave her class the option to write a letter. On brightly colored paper, each stamped with a heart and the words “Love Trumps Fear,” she asked them to to send a message to any community that might need to hear something positive.
Rather than despair, the letters are full of encouragement.
“No matter what happens, we have to accept it and plan to move forward,” reads one, addressed to fellow students. “You have a dream ahead you have to hold onto.”
Another letter, addressed to the LGBT community, says, “I just want to tell you that you are strong, you are beautiful and that you are brave.”
The school’s principal, Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, said he was struck by what he saw the day after the election — teachers seizing the moment to help empower their students.
“It’s a lost opportunity if we just kind of sit in the sadness and go through worst case scenarios,” he said, “instead of going into action for our kids.”