February 13, 2013
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.