Teens and youth groups demand RCSD make changes for next school year

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Asking for more diversity in teaching ranks, changes to curriculum, mental health access

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Teenagers and youth leaders from the Rochester City School District held a rally Wednesday, demanding changes in the make-up of teachers, historical curriculum, and for greater access to mental health help.

The speakers saying the funds will be there, about $25-$100 million dollars. The vice president of the school board saying she supports what the groups are saying, but first and foremost everything goes to balancing the budget for the next school year. 

“I think with this money coming in, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be expanding our opportunities,” says Sara Adams, Youth Advocacy Committee, East High.

The teens say $84 million dollars in Foundation Aide has finally come after years of fighting…they also say about $220 million is coming in via a federal stimulus package. Much of it they say, will have to go towards the deficit, but that will still leave $25 to $100 million. 

“Class selection is one of the things we need to work on,” says Adams. Class selection includes more local Rochester history, with a focus on Black and Brown contributions. Further, more diversity in the teaching ranks—- and more mental health help at schools. 

“First of all, we have to make sure that we have addressed the issue of a structural deficit,” says Cynthia Elliot, School Board Vice President.

Elliot says balancing the books comes first, but what the teens are demanding, she says she can get behind. Especially when it comes to adding more teachers of color to work with a population of students who are largely minorities. 

“I’m excited that this youth group is out there to be able to make these kinds of demands,” adds Elliot.

The teens saying if more isn’t done, and the demands are not met, they will keep pressing. 

“We are not going to give up, we just want everyone to know that’s watching, we are going to fight,” says Camren Bizzle of Youth Build.

Elliot says they are still in budget deliberations, but some of this will be rolled out this year, just not all of it. The RCSD budget is due to be finalized and then voted on by City Council on July 1st. 

Full press release from groups:

Parents and students have been fighting for over a decade to receive the equitable and owed funds from New York State for urban and rural schools. The fight has been difficult and long but all very worth it in the end. The news was recently shared that $84 million in Foundation Aid for Rochester City School District would be fully funded after years and years of fighting. There will also be about $220 million coming in with the stimulus package and because this money is one-time it needs to be used wisely and put toward things that will last a while and benefit students the most. Despite the fact that a portion of this is going to have to go towards filling the deficit, there will still be $25-100 million left to go towards students’ priorities. Students and parents know what’s best for students and parents and they must be at that decision-making table as we develop this budget. Representation plays a huge role in students’ education, and when you have a district with 80% white women as teachers who teach far from the student body’s history, there’s not very much of that. We need culturally relevant curriculum that engages students and makes them want to learn more. We need more Black and Brown educators who live in the city and know the experience of the students that they teach. This money could go towards so many different things that would create more representation and that must happen if we want to improve our education system. For example, to encourage more RCSD students to want to become teachers and counselors, we need to expand and promote pathways programs, like the Teacher Leadership Institute at East High School. Also paraprofessionals who live in and come from our communities should have more support to get their teaching credentials. The list could go on about reasons why students aren’t motivated or interested in school. Class selection is another huge factor. When you aren’t giving students access to classes that actually feel valuable to them, they’re not going to want to come to school at all. RCSD’s course catalog looks amazing on paper but the truth is, a lot of the classes don’t end up making the master class list and that comes down to 2 things. It’s either staff aren’t encouraging and informing students of all the class opportunities they have or specific schools don’t have all the resources to offer all the classes another school might be able to. People have learned to work virtually and that’s something that should be taken advantage of and used to give more opportunity when it comes to course selection. School lunches and the food that we’re served is another big thing and like all the demands students have, it’s realistic and achievable. There’s so many things we could do to improve the food, whether it be working with local farms, building salad bars, offering more condiments, the list could go on. For so many students, the food they get in school is the only food they get and it’s not asking a lot for that food to be something that the adults in power would serve their own children. Before any type of learning is done, mental health should always come first and that’s something the district needs to do a better job at. We need more social workers, counselors, and also restorative and other programs that build relationships and make students feel supported and safe. This is another reason why representation is crucial. Having social workers who can talk to students and relate to their experience is so much more likely to have a better impact than a student talking to someone who they can’t build that connection with. There’s so much work that needs to be done and we have to recognize the seriousness of the decisions that are being made. The budget process should not be rushed and it must include student and parent voice. The demands are clear and achievable and there’s no reason for them not to be met. Teens with Attitude, a new youth coalition is working to get youth more involved in these issues that impact us and on May 8, 1-4pm at Martin Luther King Park there will be a “We Won, But We Ain’t Done!” Youth Field Day, for the youth and by the youth, that we are encouraging any and every RCSD student to show up for!   Contact:  james@teenempowerment.org for more information

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