Student Voice

Let us handle co-locations, city students tell education officials

The Brooklyn Youth Advisory Council, with leaders from the Coro New York Leadership Center, recommended co-location policies to Department of Education officials on Monday.

Sharing space doesn’t have to hurt schools, high school students told Department of Education officials Monday night. Done right, students said, co-location can give schools strength in numbers.

In a hallmark policy, the Bloomberg administration has closed many large high schools and opened multiple smaller schools in the same buildings. Now, hundreds of schools coexist in shared spaces, an arrangement that can be uneasy at times.

After carrying out surveys and focus groups with nearly 400 students on four co-located campuses in Brooklyn, members of the youth council this week made recommendations for how to reduce tension and make the most of the space-sharing to top department officials, including Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg.

At the top of their list: youth councils on all co-located campuses to plan joint academic and extracurricular activities, and youth courts to deal with infractions of co-location rules.

“This would ensure that campus issues are addressed by and within the campus community,” said Adje Wilson, a senior at the Gotham Professional Arts Academy. Principals would appoint students to serve on their campus’s council and board, according to the students’ proposal.

The nine members of the Brooklyn Youth Advisory Council all attend co-located schools and researched the space-sharing practice as a team for the past four months.

The group is run by the Coro New York Leadership Center in collaboration with the Department of Education and the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, with funding from the National Grid Foundation.Teachers nominate students to join the advisory council after the students compete a yearlong introductory Coro program.

Members of the council said their research found that students in co-located schools have two main requests: To be able to move more freely throughout the building and to take classes at other schools in the same building.

In many co-located schools, students are limited to their school’s floor and to a single entrance and exit, where lines to go through security scanners can delay students’ arrival in class. Additional entry and exit points for each school would ease the wait times, the council said.

Advisory council members said they recognize that letting students take classes at schools other than their own could create scheduling issues. But, they said, intentionally sharing resources could lower tension among schools and ease the frustration that students feel when they see that advanced courses or electives are offered in their building but are not open to them. (Some schools do allow students to take courses at other schools in their building, but the practice is not widespread.)

Taking classes in other schools should be a privilege for students who meet certain academic and behavioral standards, advisory board members said. Other events, including sports games, should be open to the entire campus, they said.

The “overwhelming majority of students identified schools being able to open their activities to all students on campus as the most valuable advantage,” said Shondel Nurse, a junior at the High School for Public Service. “However, when asked how often there were activities that all students on campus could attend, the majority of responses ranged from rarely to never.”

“Support [for small schools] can come from within co-located campuses,” her classmate Delores McQueen added.

The proposals marked the second time that Coro worked with Brooklyn teens to tackle the thorny issue of co-locations. A different set of students made similar recommendations a year ago.

Clara Park, who coordinates the youth council for Coro, said Sternberg met with the advisory board for a full hour last week, and when the students concluded their policy presentations, he responded, “Done.” He didn’t go quite that far at the public presentation on Monday, but he did suggest that the Department of Education plans to take students’ proposals seriously.

“I want to encourage you to make this not just a presentation, but to go back into your schools, to work with us, to work with Coro and the borough president and his team to find opportunities to take these ideas and make them real,” he said. “Don’t take no for an answer.”

Terry Byam, who oversees campus governance for the Department of Education, said the youth courts struck him as the freshest and most surprising proposal. “The idea of [students] creating something that they are responsible for is important for them,” he said.

Cheyanne Smith, a junior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice, said her research team got feedback that students wouldn’t have shared with adults.

“Usually a student wouldn’t say most of the stuff, the data that we got, in front of an adult. Because it would be, oh, you’re saying bad stuff about your school … but then we’re all students so it’s basically just talking to a friend,” she said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”