“Y-PLAN is crucial to our lives, because we can see how young people have the power to make changes in society and make our voices heard.”
- Y-PLAN NYC Student
On Wednesday morning, March 2nd, fifty high school students from across New York City joined their teachers, principals, superintendents, and chancellor, as well as civic leaders from across the city, at the Y-PLAN NYC Pilot Launch in the Court Room at Brooklyn Borough Hall to share their early successes and challenges in implementing Y-PLAN. An opening Gallery of Student Work allowed the young people to explain their projects to their peers and adult allies, including Chancellor Fariña who arrived early to interact directly with the students.
Superintendent Karen Watts, a champion of Y-PLAN NYC, opened the program and introduced Chancellor Fariña who offered welcome remarks to the group, congratulated participants, and expressed her lofty goal of implementing Y-PLAN in every NYC high school so that all of the city’s more than one million public school students would have this opportunity in the near future. She was followed by Jeff Lowell, the Senior Policy Analyst for the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, and by Dr. Deborah McKoy, the Executive Director of the Center for Cities + Schools at UC Berkeley, who provided context and history for the Y-PLAN, a global educational strategy that has a double bottom line of improving college, career, and community preparation and readiness while building healthy, equitable, and sustainable cities by partnering civic leaders with high schools as the city agencies propose authentic, real-world problems for the students to help solve.
The young people took the stage next for the Student Showcase. Students from eleven different NYC public high schools explained the early successes, challenges, and next steps for their projects, which ranged from combating domestic violence to improving the Broadway Corridor in Bushwick, from improving college readiness for homeless youth to increasing pedestrian safety at some of the city’s most dangerous intersections. At Urban Action Academy, students learned about the school-to-prison pipeline and researched the potential of restorative justice to address the issue. In the words of Destiny, a senior at Urban Action Academy: “If we didn’t have scanners, and have to walk in every day, and have to take off our bags, and just think about being a prisoner, we wouldn’t be where we are right now, but at the same time, it’s not really healing us as people. It’s making us look like prisoners. We don’t want to be prisoners anymore. That’s basically what we’re saying. We want to be healed.” Meanwhile, at Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, students engaged with the participatory budgeting process alongside Council Member Levin, and as one senior explained, while they enjoyed and learned a lot from their work designing new park benches, “[t]his project is one small step in solving many of our community problems. At the end of the day there are so many bigger problems, and we hope that after this project we’ll participate more and try to be involved in solving issues like gentrification and school-to-prison pipeline, and all these nuanced issues that really impact our community.”
After the student showcase, the civic clients who posed these project questions to the students took the stage to offer their feedback. City leaders from the Departments of Transportation and of Homeless Services, the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence (MOCDV) and NYC Service used this opportunity to convey the value of young people’s voices in policy decisions, as well as the impression that these students have already made on them. For example, the representatives from the MOCDV praised the Culinary Arts students from George Westinghouse CTE High School for their immediate impact. The MOCDV had met with the students less than a week before the event, and in that time, the had students already taken innovative action by arriving at the event with cookies adorned with the Domestic Violence Prevention Hotline number, explaining that by attaching the number to a cookie wrapper, individuals will be able to discretely take the number, thereby protecting the privacy and safety of victims. Y-PLAN Civic Clients Tesa Arozqueta and Elizabeth Falcone from the MOCDV praised the students, noting that at this point “for us the real highlight is seeing the amazing work they have already done. The information they took from us, pulled out of that workshop, and completely made their own was beyond anything we expected. It’s incredible. We can’t wait to begin moving forward with it.”
Following the morning’s public event, current Y-PLAN students, teachers, and civic clients stayed for a student workshop andplanning session to help launch these projects for the spring. Final proposals will be displayed at the culminating event, a Y-PLAN NYC Summit on May 26th at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
“We need help getting more people to see our vision through our lenses in order to succeed.”
-Y-PLAN NYC Student