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SU is always growing in power and resources. Just this past summer one of our partner organizations, the Media Mobilizing Project, received the American Recovery and Reinvestment grant to open the Young People’s Computer Center. It was opened to bridge the “digital divide”— the growing gap between those with internet access and those without. With the center came college prep workshops and a new youth media lab. The computer center, located at PSU’s office, has workshops and resources for young
people in middle and high schools. There were several reasons for creating the Young People’s Computer Center. Students have a hard time accessing computers in most schools and libraries, and many students don’t have internet access at home. The center gives students an opportunity to complete assignments, check e-mail, and fill out college/job applications as well as many other tasks. According to Alycia Duncan, a sophomore at West Philadelphia High School, “I think the computer center is awesome, because unlike computers at school, we are allowed to use Facebook and there are no time limits.” Another reason why the center was needed was to give students college access. This includes PSAT, SAT, ACT, and college prep
workshops. It gives students a way to prepare for their lives post-high school, with free workshops in a safe, youth-centered space. Kim Reed, a student at Delaware Vally Charter High School, says, “The college access program is very important for me as a senior. It’s helping me prepare for the SATs and college in general.” PSU’s media programs are also benefiting from the new resources. In addition to the public computer center, we have a new media lab that allows PSU members to edit video, do online research, post blogs, and produce radio pieces. Members of our radio show, On Blast, use the lab for recording and producing a monthly show. The youth media lab has made it easier for students to make media and spread our message to the world. PSU believes that the only way for students to achieve is if the resources they need are made accessible to them. This is why we have created the Young People’s Computer Center. With these resources we plan to lead Philadelphia’s students on a path to success. • When you see this icon, go to www.onblast.podomatic.com to hear the accompanying radio story.These radio stories were produced by PSU members for our radio show, On Blast.
n the past, Furness High School has been through it’s ups and downs. But over the past three years, Furness has made major improvements in terms of test scores, attendance, and climate. Now, as one of the highest performing and most diverse neighborhood high schools in the city, Furness has become a model of what a high school should be. So when other Furness students and I found out that our school was on the list of potential school closures, we were shocked. Our school has made so much improvement that it just didn’t make sense to shut down our school. Philadelphia Student Union’s Furness Chapter wanted to fight to keep our school open. We began by coordinating with our principal and gathering data about our school’s improved track record.
Next we strategized with our fellow classmates and schoolmates to take action. With this came a two week recruitment of student to make our chapter stronger. We then reached out to other allies in South Philadelphia, including Juntos and
SEAMAAC, and Action United. After that we wrote a letter to acting Superintendent Nunery. and the SRC. The letter outlined students’ arguments for why Furness should be kept open.
Lastly, Brittany Butler represented Furness students by testifying at a School Reform Commisision meeting. She gave a passionate speech about being part of the Furness school community and how it has impacted her. After taking all these actions to save our school, we had to sit and wait to hear the final verdict. On Nov. 2, 2011 the final report was released. Of the 9 schools on the list the that were slated to be closed over the next two years, Furness High School was not one of them. When we heard the news, every member of our chapter cheered! This victory showed what happens when students and communities organize to make their voices heard. At least for now, we can plan for a bright future at Furness high school. •
ne Voice” is all that has ever worked to make change — and by that we mean a group of people coming together and fighting for the same thing. One Voice is exactly that: teachers, parents, and students united for the same change. The idea for One Voice came about last year when students teamed up with teachers and parents to work on the Teacher Action Group’s curriculum fair.
We expanded the fair to include a summit in the afternoon. Our purpose was to get parents, students and teachers talking about issues that affect our schools. That went really well and we had allies from Baltimore, New York, Chicago, and DC to help us talk about the national situation in public education. This fall we kept the momentum going by holding ongoing meetings between students, parents and teachers. Each of
these groups are working on issues separately, but we saw the need to come together. We have agreed on a number of issues. “We’re coming together to listen to each other’s ideas and to be frank, we’re all saying the same things about how we want our schools to be shaped up” said PSU member Keith Lomax. All three groups are tired of the inequity in resources across our schools. Students are not given a chance to succeed because they are treated unfairly based on where they live.
We all agree that a zero tolerance approach to school discipline needs to end. It’s just another way of treating students unfairly by pushing them out of school. One Voice feels that school advisory councils are the key to making sure that parents, students, and teachers have decision-making power in their schools. Maurice Jones, Home and School President of Henry Lea Elementry said, “Right now education is on the lips of everyone and parents, students and teachers have not always had a voice. We need our viewpoint out there, not just politicians and administrators.” There are a lot of changes happening in the school district of Philadelphia. We have new SRC members. We are going to have a new superintendent. Now is the time for us to have a voice in the new leadership. We need One Voice now more than ever! •
tudent Success Centers act as a onestop shop for a number of resources in Philadelphia public schools. Unfortunately, in the spring of 2011, the Student Success Center (SSC) at my school, Ben Franklin High School, closed due to lack of adequate funding. This was a major loss for students at my school, especially because of the rich history of how Student Success Centers were created. I would like to give you a brief history as to how Student Success Centers were developed, implemented and won by students. In 2002, Philadelphia Student Union surveyed over 1000 students in our schools to find out what issues they were most concerned about. From the survey results we selected three issues that we wanted to have included in the high school plan: guidance counselors (the lack thereof ), creating a student government that would truly give students a voice, and creating an engaging and multi-cultural curriculum. We visualized a place inside of schools where students could receive these supports and services. We decided to call this place a Student Success Center. Initially, Bartram High School students were able to convince the School District of Philadelphia to implement these Centers in 10 neighborhood high schools. The students of Philadelphia public high schools have received a lot of assistance from the Student Success Centers (SSC) in their schools. Some of the programs that have been held inside the SSC include: • College and computer access • Career readiness • Assistance from social workers • Conflict resolution • Help with homework and tutoring • Mentoring & other group services • Nutrition counselors (at some high schools, like West Philadelphia high school)
As a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School, my experience has been that the SSC was extremely helpful in terms of my academic development. It allowed me to contact certain colleges and universities that I was interested in attending. Since I don’t have a computer at home, the SSC was a great resource due to its computer accessibility. It also helped me with my homework. There were Temple University
lin High School was the only school that lost our SSC competely. At other schools, they were kept open using funding from a Department of Labor (DOL) grant. But this DOL money will run out in two years time. This loss means that students are left with very little help and in some cases, none at all. “The SSC was a very inspiring place for students to learn and better their
students stationed in the SSC that volunteered to help students with homework as well as tutoring. When I came back to school this year, our school’s SSC was closed. It was closed because the School District of Philadelphia lost money due to Gov. Corbett’s statewide budget cuts. Benjamin Frank-
education. I wish ours was still open,” said Ada Anderson, an 11th grader at Benjamin Franklin High School. Going forward, we must begin to think about how we can get this valuable resource back in our school, and how we can sustain this much needed resource across the school district. •
hen I walk into school I sometimes feel like I am walking into a prison. I walk into school and have to walk past surveillance cameras and through metal detectors. There are even bars on the windows. When I walk into school and it feels like a prison, how am I going to focus on learning? That is a part of the School to Prison Pipeline. The school to prison pipeline is a term that describes the similarities between schools and prisons that push students out of school. There are three main factors that lead to the School to Prison Pipeline: not having enough resources, zero-tolerance polices, and other school discipline and policing practices. One of the main reasons why students don’t stay in school is because they don’t have enough resources. For example, there are not enough counselors, textbooks, or extracurricular activities. Classrooms are overcrowded. Students are often left without the help they need to be successful and lose interest in school. Not having more interaction with my teachers has made me think of dropping
out. More time from my teacher would help me understand better; sometimes it just takes me longer. It makes me feel like a failure, but I know I can be successful if I had more help. I know a lot of students need that kind of support because we don’t all learn the same way. I learn better when things are hands-on but we usually don’t have the resources for that kind of work. Another thing that leads to the School to Prison Pipeline is ‘zero tolerance’ and
other harsh discipline policies. Our school district uses in-school and out of school suspensions and expulsions for everything from fighting to talking in class. A student just putting their head down on their desk could get a suspension! According to the ACLU, suspensions have increased from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000, and most have been for children of color.
Instead of sending students out of their classes or out of school, it would be better to talk to them to find out why something is happening. Some schools have programs like peer mediation. “Peer mediation is good because students relate to other students better. The goal is to have the conflict resolved”, says Shamiah Williams, a senior at Parkway Northwest High School. When suspended and expelled, students miss a great deal of education time that they cannot get back. When students miss that much school, it’s too hard to catch up and many students just stop coming to school. Not only are there problems with discipline, but there are problems with policing in school. There are more police officers than counselors in most schools and this is a problem. If we had more counselors we could deal with our problems before they turn into something that requires police to get involved. “I feel like a prisoner, not a student,” says Keith Nichols, a sophomore at West Philadelphia High School. And many students feel that if they are treated like prisoners, then that is how they will act. This shows how students end up in the School to Prison Pipeline. In the Philadelphia Student Union we are working to end the School to Prison Pipeline. We started the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools to work with organi-
zations from around the city to fight for the things we need to improve our schools. We work to make sure youth have a voice in what happens in our education. Being a member of PSU makes me feel like I can change our school district and change people’s perspectives on youth. I know that I can be part of working to end the School to Prison Pipeline. •
n March 30th 2011, over 2,000 students, parents, and community members marched from the Criminal Justice Center to the Philadelphia School District building in response to Governor Corbett’s education budget cuts. The message was simple “Fund our schools, not prisons.” The community expressed the idea that our schools are already under-funded and that’s one of the reasons why our prisons are over-populated. Since the action, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools unveiled our platform for what a Nonviolent School should look like. A Nonviolent School has four components: Student Voice, Student Supports and Services, Classroom Engagement, and Restorative Discipline. Each part of the platform has low-cost strategies that are proven to work. Young people from 10 different organizations across the city designed each part of the platform. Our platform is based on the idea that persistently dangerous schools have high numbers of violent incidents because the schools are systemically violent. So a school is likely to be violent if there are more police than counselors, more money invested in security and surveillance systems than in social and emotional supports. A school can be structurally violent if students get disciplined through suspensions and expulsions rather than restorative practices like teen court, ‘restorative circles’ and peer mediation. Our platform isn’t just about a lack of physical violence; it’s about nonviolent power. Nonviolent power
like 2,000 rallying against big budget cuts on education. We are highly anticipating the final draft of the Blue Ribbon Commission Report, which already includes many things in our platform. We hope to work with the district on implementing more student voice and restorative practices that the report calls for. We want to set targets for reducing suspensions and arrests in our schools, and improve district policy around policing. We are also working with individual schools to develop model Nonviolent Schools. We understand that the climate in education is constantly changing, so the 11 organizations that comprise CNS are working hard to expand our network and implement our platform in different places. •
hy do you have a voice if you don’t use it? I believe that students deserve to voice their opinion and be heard. Students’ different learning styles should be accepted in schools. If students remember things better by drawing pictures, then they should be able to draw pictures instead of getting shut down. I have witnessed teachers tell students to stop drawing in class, even if the drawings were related to the class. If students can’t learn the way they want to learn, then they won’t want to learn at all. I think that this is part of the reason why students drop out of school in the first place. If students felt that we had a voice, a lot of kids would be graduating and there would be more colleges and fewer prisons. Right now, prisons get too much money and schools get too little money. This leads to more kids failing and going to prison, where prison developers can make more money off of them. All this would change if students had a voice. More Black men live in prison cells than in college dorms.1 If young people had a voice in our schools and our society, there would be more Black people in dorms than cells. • 1 Justice Policy Institute study, 2000.
n districts all around Pennsylvania, schools are underfunded. With the recent budget cuts by Governor Tom Corbett this has made getting an education in Pennsylvania exceedingly difficult. In 2007 the Costing Out Study had an interesting finding that 474 out of 501 school districts in Pennsylvania are underfunded. Although there were small improvements to school funding with the new school funding formula that Governor Rendell put in place in 2008, most school districts in Pennsylvania have remained underfunded. Philadelphia (as well as Reading, Chester, and hundreds of other school districts) were already underfunded and are now experiencing the effects of even more harsh budget cuts, thanks to Governor Corbett’s decision to slash education spending. What makes the budget cuts even worse is that Governor Corbett carried them out in a way that disproportionately targeted poor districts. School districts in high-poverty areas lost more funding than middle class or wealthy areas. This
happened even though students in poorer districts—like Philadelphia, Chester and Reading—have the greatest need for a high quality education. Education advocates agree that Corbett’s budget actually increased the gap between rich and poor Pennsylvanians, stating, “The budget is
ing. The teacher bases most, if not all, of the work we are required to do on the text book. The problem is there is only one set of books for two classes, which means we can’t take these books home. Without having a book to take home it makes it incredibly hard to finish or catch up on
expected to scratch the wealthiest communities, cut those in the middle, and lacerate the poorest.”1 I am a student in one of these very underfunded schools whose district has been targeted by the budget cuts. From my own personal experience as a senior attending Overbrook High school, I can tell you that my physics class has been extremely difficult due to the lack of fund-
work. Not having enough books in my school is one example of underfunding that I see throughout many underfunded public schools. Not only schools in Philadelphia are affected by underfunding, but so are schools all around Pennsylvania. PSU has been travelling to other cities around Pennsylvania to meet with students and get their take on this issue.
In Reading, underfunding has been the norm for a long time. The students there have never had enough resources. I met with students from Reading school district who are part of a youth group called Project Peace, and we compared how underfunding affects us. Among the things that Reading students mentioned, there were a lot of familiar complaints: overcrowded classrooms, lack of books, no access to technology, no support from over-burdened counselors, and inexperienced teachers that don’t know how to engage with students. One student said, “The thing that hurts me the most is how most of the clubs got cut. These clubs were part of what made students feel unique. Losing these clubs takes away one of the positive outlets that students have.” When she said this I understood and agreed completely. The arts are what makes us shine and when they are taken away, students feel left out of their education. I also saw this happen with my own eyes, when I came back to school this Fall and all my school’s art classes had been cut. In Chester, Governor Corbett’s budget cuts really hit them hard. Crucita Vazquez, a Chester high school student said, “Under the cuts, there were two different high schools that got merged together. The school I’m attending now doesn’t know my schedule from last year. So students like me who got transferred aren’t getting enough credits now. We aren’t sure if we’re going to graduate. We’re not getting the education that we were getting before.” These budget cuts haven’t made it easy for us youth to succeed, period. The students of Pennsylvania are not taking the harsh disrespect to their education lightly. In Chester, students organized a walkout. Mori Hitchcock, a senior at Science & Discovery High School, said, “We organized the walkout against the poor education and classroom conditions at my school. We marched over two and a half miles to the administration building, and then we marched back to school. Next we plan to come up with another way to get everyone’s attention and get everyone behind the students.” The Philadelphia Student Union is building power to fight for a fair budget by bringing the students from Reading, Chester & Philadelphia together. On November 19, we convened students from Reading’s Project Peace, Chester, and PSU members for a youth-led workshop about how schools are funded. We also strategized about what actions we want to engage in together, to have a stronger student voice in the next state budget. As a whole, students from all these cities are realizing that although they are in different places, they are connected by the effects of Gov. Corbett’s statewide budget cuts. We are standing together to resist this injustice to our education. • 1 “Political Budgeting Hurts Poor Kids and Schools: Proposed State Cuts Increase the Gap Between Rich and Poor” by Education Law Center ( June 27, 2011)
oday in Chester’s schools, the state budget cuts to education have hurt the students tremendously. Because of these deep cuts, Chester school district has had to combine grades to try to save money. First graders are in classes with second graders, and fourth grade students are in classes with fifth graders. A Chester parent with three children in combined elementary school classrooms said, “I don’t think they are receiving the proper education they should be.” Inside Chester schools there was a big increase in class sizes, and now some classes exceed maximum capacity. Some students are sitting on top of heaters or standing up for whole class periods. John Lalley, a Chester High School senior said, “Last year, there were 25 students to a teacher. Now there are 45 students to one teacher.” At a September town hall meeting, concerned students and parents voiced their feelings about the school district and the budget cuts. Some people are angry. Some feel that these cuts are a big step backwards. A Chester grandparent said, “These budget cuts are devastating to our community. The children have said it: everything in the classroom is cut. The children are sitting on top of each other. They don’t even have books. I came through high school in the 60s. We fought for these kinds of things and we got them. And now this political regime that’s taking all of that away from us. It’s devastating.”
ood afternoon. My name is Baseerah Watson, a student at Sayre High School. I’m here representing the Philadelphia Student Union and I am also speaking on behalf of every student in Pennsylvania who needs a quality public education. I am here to ask you, the members of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee, to act in the best interest of students like me and oppose vouchers. Many low-income students are being told that vouchers are their ticket to a better school. For most of us this is an empty promise. The amount of money that a student will receive through a voucher is not enough to afford tuition at most private schools. Most low-income families will not be able to make up the difference. Vouchers are not a guarantee that we will get a better education. Private and parochial schools are not required to accept us and it is unlikely that they will accept English Language Learners, or students with special needs.
Vouchers are unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Constitution states, “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be
appropriated to, or used for the support of any sectarian school.” I believe that this is a very clear directive for you, our elected Representatives, to oppose vouchers. I am Muslim. If I got a voucher, would parochial schools accept me? Unlike my public school, a parochial school can deny me admission because of my religion. Taxpayer money should not be going to schools that have the right to discriminate against LGBT youth, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, students with behavior problems, or those from different religious backgrounds. Vouchers will hand taxpayer money to private schools. This money could be
better spent improving our public schools. We cannot afford for more money to be lost from our already underfunded public schools, especially after the latest round of budget cuts. Schools districts across Pennsylvania have already been devastated and we cannot sustain a further loss of resources. This voucher bill would grant vouchers to students who are already attending private or high performing schools. In fact, projections show that the majority of students who will end up actually using these vouchers are students who already attend private schools.1 My school, Sayre High school in West Philadelphia, is on the list of ‘voucher-eligible’ schools. This means that if Senate Bill 1 passes, I could be handed a voucher next year. But I do not want one. Aside from all the reasons I already mentioned, I reject vouchers as a solution because I love my school. My school is part of my neighborhood. It’s part of my community. I am a leader in my school, and I have been working hard with my peers, the Philadelphia Student Union, and my principal to improve it.
Fixing struggling schools like mine is a process. It takes leadership from the principal and the district, student and parent involvement, qualified and effective teachers, engaging curriculum, accountability, and adequate funding. It is a process, but I know that my school can succeed if it is invested in. To conclude, education is a human right. All students in Pennsylvania deserve a high quality public education. Vouchers will not achieve this. They will make our education system more unequal. • 1 “Origin of students expected to utilize SB 1 School Vouchers (FY 2014-15)”
he Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) believes that all students deserve a high quality education and that schools must be based on hands on learning and real life experience. We believe that everyone has a right to an equal education that engages us in questioning and changing the world around us. With these core values in mind, PSU co-founded the Alliance for Educational Justice (AEJ). We have been working with AEJ since 2009, organizing to fix the root causes of the issues that students face today. AEJ is a national alliance of youth organizing and other groups working towards educational justice. Many groups in the alliance share the goals of changing how our schools operate, creating more opportunities for the youth and building more relationships between students and teachers within our schools. The Alliance for Educational Justice AEJ has a central campaign that focuses on national education reform. This campaign is called the National Campaign for Quality Education (NCQE). NCQE has been working on multiple things over the past few years. In May of 2010, members of NCQE held their 2nd national convening in Denver, CO. This convening was a space for members in AEJ to engage in strategic dialogue to determine there key demands for the coming years. Each organization sent two young
On May 19, 2011 there was a national rally organized by AEJ and the Leaders Investing for Equality Campaign. It was a very successful day. Thousands of high school students marched from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor to demand increased federal investments in education and youth jobs. During the National Rally, NCQE released the concept paper for the Youth Success Act. This concept paper proposes that students from low income families should get the same opportunities to an equal education, so that they can obtain higher education and living wage careers. The vision is that, eventually, the Youth Success Act will transition from a concept paper into a bill to be proposed in Congress.
people as representatives. Jaritza Gieggel a student (at the time) from Make the Road New York stated, “It was very significant. At the convening we discussed a plan for the Youth Justice Corp, so that students can take the lead in their organization on a national level.”
One section of the concept paper is called Dismantling The School to Prison Pipeline and Creating Healthy, Productive School Climates. This section focuses on ending zero tolerance and replacing it with better systems for solving discipline issues in schools. Our goal is to implement
disciplinary practices that don’t push students into the criminal justice system. Replacing High-Stakes Standardized Test with More Effective PerformanceBased Assessments is another key section of the Youth Success Act concept paper. It focuses on how schools can move away from relying on standardized testing. Our goal is to eliminate standardized testing as the central way that students’ learning is measured and replace it with more engaging, accurate ways of assessing students. Our national work with the Alliance for Educational Justice and the National Campaign for Quality Education has been important to PSU. By working with students from around the country to reclaim our education, we are helping determine our future as a whole country. •
ou all know and love the Philadelphia Student Union’s Movement Music, right? Well if you don’t, Movement Music is music that’s created and produced by some of the students and alumni of the organization. Over the last three years a core group of PSU members have become dedicated to making this music. Our music contains perspectives on our personal stories that also relate to other students in our communities. Our message to our audience: understand that all young people want the freedom to express ourselves without being ridiculed. Movement music is about addressing students’ struggles and harmonizing our solutions. Movement Music’s newest album dropped in the beginning of 2011. The title of the new album is Untold Stories. Why did we title it Untold Stories? Because on this album we express the untold stories of students in the Philadelphia public school system.
Live Reports is an upbeat song on this album. On this song we tackle the mainstream media’s perception of young people as violent, and talk about who we really are: organizers, artists, thinkers, innovators and leaders. Live Reports and Movement Music is about portraying young people accurately and positively. “Let our power be known, our voices be loud, kill the stereotypes that we hear about.” The most popular on song on Untold Stories is the title track. This summer, the magnificent group of young people who wrote and recorded Untold Stories decided to make the song into a music video.
This was an experience like no other; a journey we were lucky to take together. Luis Ascencio, a video producer, and Jamie Raddatz, a photographer, worked with us to create the images for our untold stories. The video shooting experience was interesting and fun. We got to work with professionals who not only created a powerful video, but also taught us a few things about photography and videography. Check out the video at www.movementmusic.phillystudentunion.org. Taking it back to our Pushed Out album, which we released in 2009, we made a video for that title track as well. The
Pushed Out video is the story of a student who go pushed out of school simply for not having his ID. He wanted to go to school but was turned away when he couldn’t pay the $1 fine for forgetting his ID. This led to this student giving up on school because he was denied an education. (Charging students an entrance fee to get in to school without ID is a policy that exists in several Philadelphia neighborhood high schools.) The Pushed Out video was created to educate the students in the organization about the push out crisis and how it increases the high school drop out rate. We plan to screen this video in classroom presentations, Saturday meetings, and events as a visual representation of what we’re fighting against. We’ve done a lot of cool work with Movement Music and you may be wondering whats next for us. We are recruiting new members from the new generation of the Philadelphia Student Union. Veterans of Movement Music are getting the chance to open new students up and help them to express themselves. Students who are interested in Movement Music begin by participating in discussions with veteran members about topics we want to write about. Then we do free writing about those topics. After the free writing, we read and revise our work and write a chorus together. The veteran members then take the newer members into the studio to walk them through the same recording process that we went though. In the studio, new members will learn to record, overlap, and then adlib. We hope to develop Movement Music members who will one day be able to walk someone through this same process. In this way, we are making sure that Movement Music will continue to grow and develop in the future. •
efore I joined the Philadelphia Student Union I was someone who hung out and loved the thrill of getting in trouble. Being reckless was what I lived for. Then I went to school one day and my college access coordinator at my Student Success Center told me about Philadelphia Student Union (PSU). At first she tried to bribe me with pizza, but I was more interested in the fact that she said my voice could be heard and something could be done about the things I wanted to change. I never felt like I was heard before, so I took the risk. My next step was to come to PSU’s summer program, BAYM, which stands for Building a Youth Movement. At first I thought, “What are we building a movement for?” I listened and learned and decided for myself that it meant we are building a better learning environment. When I started BAYM, I was not nervous at all. I was confident as can be. When I got there I saw many familiar faces. Then I started learning the most interesting things directly from other young people just like me. BAYM is a five day long event. Every morning there was a workshop, and every afternoon we had a media project to work on in our media tracks.I chose the Public Speaking media track because I like to speak to (and listen to) other people. In public speaking we learned four techniques: body language, projection, eye contact, and using emotion to connect to your audience. In on of the morning workshops I learned about the school to prison pipeline. We talked about disciplinary schools, truancy, and how to stay on the right path. Another important workshop I participated in was about young people’s oppression. We talked about the issues that youth face in our everyday lives and the root causes of some of our problems. We also covered how to deal with these difficult situations. Before BAYM, I had no clue what I wanted to do when I grew up. But being part of BAYM helped me figure some things out. Now I have several goals: graduate from college, pursue a military career, study health and fitness, and become a Physical Education teacher. Because of BAYM, I’m taking my PSU career further than before, and now my grades are better. I thank BAYM and my mom does too. •
t was summer and I had the problem a lot of kids do during summer: I found myself bored. So as a leisurely second thought, I thought to have a video chat with my oldest brother, Michael, who is currently attending college in Atlanta, Georgia. In the midst of our video chat, my mom popped into my room for one of her infamous quick check ups. But instead of nagging about all the things wrong with the current state of my room like I thought she would, she gasped and then started to cry with her eyes fixed on my laptop screen. I was beyond confused but I later learned that she was crying because she had not seen Michael in so long and to see him practically there in my room was something she had not expected. See, the thing is my mom didn’t know about ‘video chats’ and ‘web cams’ until that day.
I mean, just twenty years ago the only remedy for missing someone was to give them a quick call. It’s not that my mom is technologically illiterate, its just that technology is climbing at a staggering pace nowadays, and our parents are having trouble keeping up. Youth, on the other hand, have no problem juggling all of the constant changes of this new world. From a young age we were barraged with fancy images of smart phones, and high-speed this and that, and most adults are disgusted by how
high-end technology, and that technology needs operators. While this has a surface message, being something like “Out with the old in with the new”, I think the greater message is that kids are on their way to leading adults. This can be interpreted in many ways, but I think it should mean that young people are leaders. The youth of today should have a solid voice in the affairs of Philadelphia and the country. Youth have initiated and led many
technology dependant we are. A part of me agrees with them, but the simple fact is the world of tomorrow is filled with
peaceful revolts in the past. Take the 1960 Greensboro sit-in for example. Four young black students took the matter of segregation at a local Woolworth restaurant into their own hands. After being refused service because they sat at a ‘WhitesOnly’ section they came back the next day and took the lead on initiating a massive boycott. This was one of the first steps towards the total desegregation of the South. Youth have always had the ability to lead. Sometimes we forget we have that ability, however. I think the obvious tech advantage we have is a reminder of just how powerful we are as young people. It’s time for parents and adults to stop being afraid of letting their kids lead. Now, as in the past, young people are showing that we have the keys to our future. •
s one of the youth members of the Philadelphia Student Union’s Transition Committee I get the opportunity to inform you about the journey that Philadelphia Student Union is going through. The Transition Committee focuses on the transformation PSU is going through as Nijmie Dzurinko, our current Executive Director (ED), prepares to leave the organization. It has come to the end of a five-year commitment that she made when she became the ED. As an organization we are standing strong and feel that this is a great opportunity for us to grow and continue our success. The Transition Committee’s job was to interview people and find the best candidate for the next Executive Director. We were looking for someone who has a deep understanding of youth organizing, and who would be a good fit for PSU. Going through the process of planning the transition was very intense. It included input from staff, board members, and student members. Within the process we decided that the new Executive Director would shadow Nijmie and learn on a personal level what she does daily. We decided this “overlap” would happen for about four months. After all this planning and searching, we are proud to have found the person that will fit into this organization as the next Executive Director. His name is Hiram Rivera. I had the pleasure to interview Hiram so that you can to get to know a little about him.
Bridge, and were able to keep the Metro Cards free for all students in the city. It was a major victory for students. Briana: What are some of your priorities for PSU’s work? Hiram: Relationship building is extremely important because we need to always work towards building a united and strong base of support for our campaigns. If we plan on making the changes we want to see in Philadelphia and the country, then we need our communities to be as united and organized as possible. We need to be constantly educating ourselves and our communities about the issues we’re working to change, because that’s the only way we will be able to have the people power necessary to win.
riana: How did you come to work with young people?
Briana: Tell me about a time when you helped youth be successful.
Briana: What makes you most excited to join PSU and why?
Hiram: I started working with youth during my first year in college as the Physical Education Supervisor for a summer school (K-8). I came into youth organizing through an AmeriCorps program called Public Allies back in 2003, where I completed a 10 month fellowship at a youth media organization called Youth Rights Media in New Haven, CT. I stayed on as staff for three more years.
Hiram: A time that sticks out the most to me was helping the students in NYC save their Metro Cards when the Metropolitan Transit Authority wanted to take away their free rides to school. We are the only community group to ever sit and negotiate with a sitting Chairman of the MTA. The students staged a walkout of 22 schools in New York City, led a march of over 1000 students over the Brooklyn
Hiram: I am extremely excited to work at an organization that I have admired for a very long time. I look forward to learning all that I can from the youth about the city of Philadelphia, their campaigns, and their goals in life. And I am equally excited to be working with, and learning from an amazing staff. I am confident that my time in PSU will be a transformational one for me. •