Response to NYC Public Schools Reopening during COVID-19 pandemic
COVID-19 has had a disproportionately negative impact on Black and brown youth in communities already experiencing marginalization and vulnerability due to deeply rooted structural inequities. Ten percent of all NYC public school students are living in temporary housing, and in some neighborhoods, 60% of students are experiencing poverty.
In addition to the aforementioned stress and anxiety, this pandemic has presented a multitude of traumatic experiences for young people and their families. For many, this has been a time that will forever be marked by prolonged periods of isolation, the loss of friends and family, work and financial instability which for some, has led to food and housing insecurity and lack of access to essential necessities.
Not only should we not expect or require young people to learn in an environment that ignores these realities, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to do so if they are not provided proper support in the face of such adversity. In an educational system that currently underserves 1.1 million students by employing only 1,320 social workers, the ability of the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) to meet the challenge of managing the socio-emotional needs of students on its own seems like an impossible task.
New York City Department of Education’s Response
New York State and City education officials have identified the need for culturally responsive, healing centered, social emotional learning rooted in Restorative Practice, Positive Youth Development and with a focus on Mental Health. Currently, not much specific guidance has been provided to schools regarding implementation, training or funding for these non-academic endeavors. This leaves many unanswered questions on how these identified practices will be implemented this year.
A Call to Maximize Resources and Restore Healing in NYC Public Schools
As the DOE works to balance learning environments, education and public safety, Girls for Gender Equity other youth service providers in New York City are calling for a proactive, systemic and holistic plan providing explicit guidance on how to implement a continuum of services that support the mental health and emotional well being of all students, families and school staff. As a matter of capacity and expertise, the DOE will need to work in conjunction with CBO’s around NYC to sufficiently address these issues.
We as youth service providers in New York City have remained in close contact with young people throughout this difficult period of quarantine and social isolation. We have heard their struggles and adapted our programming in rapid response to meet them where they are. Knowing that mental health services are in high demand and short supply, we have utilized our experience and expertise to fill the gap by providing remote services that have specifically addressed their socio-emotional well-being and mental health needs. Through this time and even now, youth service providers continue to serve as trusted adult allies, connecting our participants and their families to the help, opportunities, and services they need.
The DOE can no longer lean on outdated approaches and they cannot do this alone. DOE must partner with CBOs who are already equipped with strategies and best practices for working with youth in effective and impactful ways. Schools and youth service providers must work together to serve young people, sharing expertise, experience, and best practices to create learning environments that are in the best shape to support in-school and after-school learning environments which are equitable, impactful, inclusive, and culturally responsive.
Girls for Gender Equity and other youth service providers across New York City offered recommendations for a new school year focused on culturally responsive, healing centered, social-emotional learning rooted in restorative practices, positive youth development and mental health. We circulated a sign-on letter with four key demands that has over 400 signatures and over 20 endorsing organizations.
Read and sign the letter to New York City Schools Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education Richard Carranza here.
Signing on to this letter is an opt-in to receive future communications from Girls for Gender Equity.