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iSchool’s young people are getting active

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Youth Activism class meeting for their final project in the lobby before going to Washington Square Park on June 9th.

Youth Activism class meeting for their final project in the lobby before going to Washington Square Park on June 9th.

Nina Roberts

Nina Roberts

Youth Activism class meeting for their final project in the lobby before going to Washington Square Park on June 9th.

Nina Roberts and Piper Paulino

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The desire for equality, engaging in the local and universal dilemmas in the world, remaining hopeful, finding solutions. What could this all possibly be? It’s simple: Youth Activism.

Youth activism is the action in which students rally, petition, protest, educate, and above all work together in order to reform and build a more equal and overall better place for everyone to live in.

At the NYC iSchool, there are many sources of youth activism for students to get educated and to get involved on the reality of the world, and work for solutions.

There is the Social Activism club at the school that started in 2014. The club has done many things, including going back into the community in the form of a student led protest. In addition, there is a literal module called Youth Activism that does just that.

The module is taught by Ms. Gray, an English teacher at the iSchool who also teaches classes such as Women’s Literature and Fairy Tales. She teaches about the topic of political activism that has showed up countless times worldwide, yet the class only started in 2017. But it’s so important that it is finally here.

Youth Activism is about the students. It’s about “learn[ing] how to become informed citizens. Engage in political activism that is meaningful and thoughtful.” Students select their own topics, which they find personally passionate and important. There is a wide variety of topics chosen.

This year, one of the topics include are health care for de-stigmatizing mental health to the public as well as the general awareness of it. There is also environment and clean water issues, as well as the effect climate change and pollution have on minorities. The different problems in economy are discussed. Protecting human rights, mainly freedom of speech. Education and the issues of racism in education, sex education, and bullying, as well as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The biggest topic is public safety that ranges from GMO’s to police brutality to terrorism.

Two students, sophomore Sofia Wilson and freshman Alliyah Logan, talked about their experiences in the class.

Sofia is a proud and open activist, and said that “being an activist is very important to me, and I went into this wanting to know more ways to make change. I feel like sometimes as a young person there is a feeling of constraint, because we are young and it feels like we can’t make much impact or change. I wanted to find out what I could do to make change.”

Alliyah said, “The module is about getting involved in activism at a young age. I’m going to take away finding credible sources and also being active in my community. I understand how to be an activist.”

I asked Ms. Gray why she started this course and she explained that the “current political environment is so angry. Shouting on social media is now useful to make the changes they want to see in the world.”

She said that social media is a new platform that the world didn’t have before. Even that sometimes this platform can holding students back. There is more room for misinformation. She even described it as “hysteria,” and anyone that knows Ms. Gray, knows that she hates the word.

Ms. Colon mentioned a similar reaction to social media, and its connection to young people and their take on activism. She said, “ [I’m] hoping that there is something powerful about being proactive in going against what is not right. There is too much of a safe format on social media.”In her opinion students too often hide behind social media. Students can use their social media to make some real change, but too many times than not, we use social media to just chip off the tip of the iceberg that is the problem. What happens when there is an entire iceberg under water that we haven’t even encountered?

But is this really an overreaction? The NYC iSchool Social Activism club held their first student-led protest after the presidential election results. Students skipped school on that November day to rally.  

Students texted each other the details of the rally and. whispered  about it in the hallways as if it were a secret senior ditch day rather than a protest. The source that gave the most information though? Social media. That surprisingly didn’t give enough detail of what the the protest was about anyway.

“When they wanted to have the student walk out they felt we didn’t support it. But the problems weren’t in the school,” Ms. Colon emphasized. A walk out made it seem like the school was serving the injustices. The school compromised with the Social Activism Club and suggested just skipping school, but at the expense of unexcused absences on all students who participated.

Ms. Colon said that students “felt like they were stifling it,” referring to the protest. The fact of the matter is, “Social injustice is still happening at 3:30 pm (after school),and on the weekends. Students will take advantage, not because they care about it, but because it’s a day off. If it’s important, do it on your time not school time.”

Students did exactly that. A portion of the students were there for SOCIAL CHANGE. Others were there to capture the day on social media and pretend that they were activists and just chant some words. And some viewed it as a day off and didn’t show up to classes or the rally. Overall, it was a student-led bust. And as Ms. Colon so eloquently said, “the students looked like idiots.”

Other people felt the protest went well and take pride in the event. The Social Activism Club, supervised by Mr. Singh, was started in February 2014. Mr. Singh mentions that it began because of his students. “A few of my students were interested in it. Now they are about to graduate.”

“They wanted the group to be able to talk about social and political things that high school students can talk about,” says Mr. Singh.When addressing the protest, he said, “the students felt empowered by it. It was minimally disruptive to things in school, but students gained from it and became more educated about things they were passionate about.” He made it pretty clear that he is proud of the work the club has been doing.

“I really like it (the club). It’s been really satisfying to watch it grow and develop. I think it’s about to emerge after the founding members graduate.”

What Ms. Gray’s Youth Activism class will do is give the students more initiative, more organization, and more help from the school. With Ms. Gray’s guidance, the first ever Youth Activism class is polishing their final projects and leaving a lasting mark on the class.

Although there are mixed feelings about the way the protest went and how much students can handle, the work the school does to lend a hand to the students can make a big effort to a big change.

The first final project for the students in Youth Activism are flyers on the students’ chosen topics, which can be seen displayed along the hallways. The students will meet together in Washington Square Park on June 9th and hand out these flyers as a means of raising awareness and starting conversations with the community.

The second final project for the students in Youth Activism is to create a website that will have more statistics and solutions for their topics. The students will be storyboarding their topics and the website will be in use very soon. The link is politicalliteracyproject.com and Ms. Gray as well as her students can’t wait for it to be open for the public.

The most important thing about activism is to know that there are never black and white solutions to its issues. Not everyone will agree on the same topics because everyone will always have different ideas on how to get into action.

As young people, we are still developing opinions and finding our own ways to deal with problems. Whether through social media, working together, or going back into the community we have to ask ourselves one thing when working toward an answer:

Are we just complaining about it or actually doing something about it?

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iSchool’s young people are getting active