#BeLove: When Youth Lead

Student advocates from Districts 2, 7, 15, and 22 met with NYC Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack as well as NYC Council Members Brad Lander (District 39) and Ritchie Torres (District 15)

New York State has the most segregated schools in the United States. The largest contributor of this figure? The New York City Department of Education, the country’s largest school district. When Sarah Camiscoli, Founder and CEO of IntegrateNYC4Me was working as a policy advisor she took note that there was a disconnect between policy makers and those that policy was being made to serve; students. Sarah understood that students were the DOE’s greatest untapped resource and have the potential to transform the integration movement. In the fight to create an equitable public school system in which students are gaining quality education, students need to be at the center of the movement, designing programs that benefit them, their peers and the system at large.

IntegrateNYC4Me was born in 2014. Today, IntegrateNYC4Me makes two main commitments; to integrate public schools and to transform the integration movement. While integrating public schools is no small task, placing students, such as Hebh Jamal at the center of this movement can create the sustainable change that is needed to create a more equitable system. Hebh is the Lead Student Activist at IntegrateNYC4Me where she co-created the first ever City-Wide Youth Council on School integration run by IntegrateNYC4Me. Having a constituency of youth leaders, such as Hebh, that span various racial, income, gender and even housing demographics increases collaboration and can expand communities through exchange. At the policy level, IntegrateNYC4Me strives to change the entire movement. By placing students at the center of this work, the movement is radically shifting to include student voices and perspectives. Policy leaders can collaborate with students creating initiatives that are more representative and relevant to those they are trying to serve.

The National Bureau of Economic Research writes that comprehensive integration is the only intervention that has been proven to narrow the national achievement gap. Because young people have the capacity to lead the charge for school integration, positive youth development can contribute to the outcomes of student lives and trajectories. Students are placed as leaders through Youth Councils across 70 NYC public school students, a Leadership Council and a national network that spans 8 states. Students have taken action with IntegrateNYC4me through projects such as the 6 Train Exchange where students from two different districts worked on a week-long school-to-school exchange and mural project in the 2014–2015 school year. The schools in the two districts have very different student bodies by race and class, and the project explored the impacts of segregation. “They called it ‘The 6 Train Exchange’ because they are only separated by several stops on the 6 Train.”

IntegrateNYC4Me’s long term strategy is to reach the 1.1 million students that make up New York City’s education landscape by 2020. In the eyes of IntegrateNYC4Me, success looks like student designed solutions. Long-term outcomes that will lead to success in 2020 include students designing a 5-pronged solution for school integration, student representatives sitting on an advisory and state boards to overseeing the implementation of this policy, and students designing the solution for the blueprint to expand the DOE policy. IntegrateNYC4Me understands that students are “the experts on the impacts of segregation and inequities with the school system” and that they must play a role in every part of the change-process.

#BeLove profiles organizations committed to ending structural racism and bias. Our goal is to tell the stories of change in our communities that result from the capacity-building work at individual and institutional levels. In the words of Assata Shakur, “ We need to be weapons of mass construction, weapons of mass love. It’s not enough to change the system, we need to change ourselves.”

Written by: Julie Zdonek. Julie is a 2017 Education Pioneer Fellow currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at Carnegie Mellon in the School of Public Policy and Management.