Basándose en las experiencias de los jóvenes de la educación, el activismo, las relaciones personales, familiares y reflexiones sobre las experiencias de vida, nuestros investigadores jóvenes expresaron el deseo de un entorno de la atención, de cómodo y respetuoso en el que aprender. A partir de estas imaginaciones, los investigadores jóvenes articulan una experiencia educativa alternativa, en lugar de constante vigilancia y el castigo, los estudiantes desean recursos de apoyo social y emocional, y los recursos económicos materiales más sustanciales como una cuestión de derechos educativos.
Drawing on young people’s experiences of education, activism, personal relationships, family, and reflections on life experiences, our youth researchers expressed desire for a respectful, comfortable, caring setting in which to learn. From these imaginings, youth researchers articulated an alternative educational experience, rather than constant surveillance and punishment, students desire social and emotional support resources, and more substantial material economic resources as a matter of educational rights.
When describing their ideal school, youth researchers underscored the importance of developing a “family” or “community” environment—where students could feel safe and welcome through a fostered culture of mutual respect and dignity, the provision of holistic supports, and the celebration of our multiple cultures, origins and identities. These ideas came up repeatedly throughout the course of the project, in group discussions and video shorts.
Youth researchers pointed to certain settings that provided this foundational sense of “family” and “community,” including Make the Road itself, and the Bushwick Community High School. While young people’s relationships to their families and neighborhoods are varied and complex—and not all worth replicating, these terms are being used as placeholders for desired feelings of belonging, identity safety, and connectedness. In these two “model” settings, young people spoke about the benefits of calling teachers by their first names, of “being yourself,” and of being a part of a “family.”
“School is basically a second home, like you spend your whole childhood in there.”
“School should feel like a family…we look out for one another, we might fight, but then we work it out.”
“A community school to me means family, you need to be together, you need to bring everybody in as one.”
Building on these ideas, our ideal community school would place emphasis on a culture of mutual respect and dignity not only among students, but also between students and adults (teachers, administrators, and school safety agents). To help build this culture—as one youth researcher put it, a place that could feel “more like home”—the youth members of BARC called for more adults in the school who can relate to the life experiences of students, either because they grew up in the same or similar neighborhoods, have kids who have been through these types of schools, or are Latin@ or black and working class.
At a minimum, youth researchers emphasized the importance of changing the culture of schools so that students don’t feel like they are being treated like a criminal and that teachers assume from the beginning that they will do something wrong. In a more concrete sense, a school that privileges a sense of family & community would provide stronger social and emotional support resources for students and teachers alike, recognizing the complexity and wholeness of lives. For instance, there would be more counselors available (for teachers too!), and adults would help students learn to deal with difficult situations in positive and productive ways.
Finally, Make the Road provides a model for how to help young people learn to be tolerant of difference, and even to celebrate difference. Youth co-researchers pointed to the importance of multi-lingual schools, addressing the impact of stereotypes on adult-student and student-student interactions, developing a culture of mutual respect and dignity between students and adults, directly addressing disrespectful interactions among students, and creating safe havens in school, like gay-straight alliances.
Our research collective also explored a number of ways to make the educational content and experience more meaningful and relevant for students in NYC public schools, including place-based education that takes seriously and engages with students’ community context, cultural history, and the toll of gentrification.
One of the recommendations to this end is to abolish the practice of “teaching to the test”; moving away from standardized testing in favor of place-based culturally-relevant and experiential educational approaches.
“…students who enjoy the curriculum, they go in everyday knowing they’re going to learn something they want to use for the rest of their life”
“when making a community school, students [would] … still have the time in their day to explore things that they take an interest in such as the arts or other sciences and other forms of history.”
Specifically, youth researchers expressed a desire for curricula to be rooted within the context of the communities, histories, and cultures of black, brown, and indigenous people. For instance, some students spoke about the importance of learning about the history of slavery and Jim Crow. Others expressed a desire to incorporate contemporary, pressing issues like resisting gentrification into classroom learning.
Youth researchers suggested that making these changes would greatly enhance student engagement in school and make their education more meaningful in their lives. In the spirit of community schools, youth researchers also envision public schools as a practical resource for community members that could provide services, strengthen neighborhood cohesion, and build community assets. For instance, our BARC team suggested that schools could provide weekend recreation spaces, or legal clinics for families dealing with housing and displacement issues related to gentrification.
What youth researchers have been suggesting here are not “pie in the sky” or unreasonable desires. The recommendations echoed throughout our research data are in line with vanguard educational research and practice recommendations across the country—as well as the aims of the Community School movement.
Our research team recognized that in order for public schools to provide the sort of robust and meaningful education young people want and need, there needs to be a reconsideration of how economic resources are spent in New York City.
We called for a redistribution of resources from NYPD towards more counselors, smaller classes, increased computer and software access and instruction, or more arts-based education. For instance, we called for moving funding from police to schools and critiqued decisions to waste city money on frivolous events. One co-researcher mentioned that it was offensive that the city put millions of dollars into “Super Bowl Alley” in midtown while the city and state’s schools were in so much need of resources.
With greater funds, the BARC team would also call for increased counseling and salaries for teachers, as we recognize that teachers are overburdened and under-supported – and that this harms the learning environment.
“…my concerns are that we are hiring more safety agents than we are hiring counselors.“