My name is Derek Ramos, and I am a member of the Youth Advisory Council. We are a group of students from different boroughs of New York City who work with DOE staff to project our voices and the voices of students all around the system. We work on finding ways to improve the overall environment of schools and find solutions to the problems we encounter as students.
We strive to make schools safer and a more welcoming space for students such as ourselves with the help of Dennis Carter the director of Community Youth Development. Dennis is a senior director at the Ramapo for Children organization. He works with training, coaching and providing technical assistance to community-based organizations across New York City. Also part of our Youth Advisory Council is Jose Dobles and Griffin Mills. Jose is a Program Manager at the Office of Community Schools and Griffin is an Associate at the Office of Community Schools. The Office of Community Schools is a part of an attendance-improvement and drop-out-prevention grant in partnership with United Way NYC.
We work together along with all of our team members to come up with a final presentation in June to DOE officials and members of the Office of Community Schools (OCS) to help reshape and inform policies for the following year. Dennis, Jose, and Griffin are our bridge between the youth and the adults. Together we host weekly meetings in which we bring forth struggles we go through on a day to day basis and ways we can try to resolve them. For this year we have settled on the subjects of mental health and school safety.
There is a power struggle between the security staff and students. We feel security officers in school sometimes diminish us as students. When someone is constantly ignoring your voice and powering over you it is not a very welcoming atmosphere. We should be able to not only feel protected but also wanted. To form a healthy and welcoming environment where students feel as equals and are still being properly protected by the security in place. But when things are not like this they turn into the negative repercussions that such an environment can cause on a student. There are many factors that can lead to the negative effects on a student’s well being and overall mental state. Things as a work overload or as simple as a lot of tests can become factors that eat away at a student. As a council, we feel these are issues that are not really spoken about.
Mental health awareness in schools has become a shadowed topic in discussions. Parents, teachers, DOE staff, and faculty have to understand that an age gap does not justify that we don’t encounter similar problems or that our problems are not important. Adults have to reflect back on when they were teenagers. What problems did you encounter that you wish someone would have helped you through? That is the goal of this council. We strive to speak on the problems that students encounter day to day but are scared to speak about. Our voices matter just as much as any other person. If we want to create a positive, welcoming and enjoyable school community our problems and concerns need to be heard and considered. On June 9th we will host a Youth Forum in which we will present all of our research and overall voice all of our thoughts.
I was able to be part of a panel called “Every Student Every Day: Breaking Barriers to Student Success” to discuss the attendance in NYC community schools. Students from YAC including myself spoke to over 160 members of the DOE including teachers, staff, and faculty. We were the center of attention in which we answered questions surrounding our everyday troubles of making it to school and how certain things motivated us to be in school. For example, we spoke about the hardships we all endured during the pandemic and how our lives have slowly started to change back to normal. It was a safe space where we shared our voices and the adults in the room were really there to listen and take into consideration what we were saying.
It was an honor to be part of such a big panel and to be able to speak on behalf of many of the students not only in our school but around NYC. I hope our voices reach the right people and the change we all wish for becomes a reality.