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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.