On a sunny spring morning, a crowd of Calhoun students gathered on the steps of City Hall, holding homemade signs and raising their voices in a rallying cry: “1, 2, 3, every kid deserves a family!” They were there to advocate for foster youth, and call for additional support from the New York City Council to find families for every child in foster care, no matter how old. The lobbying experience brought together seventh graders and Upper School students – and demonstrated how our youth are leading the way in fighting for a brighter future.
Seventh graders in Anthony Gaskins’ social studies class were studying advocacy and the First Amendment right of citizens to assemble peaceably and petition their government. Simultaneously, students in Debbie Aronson’s Upper School Community Action class were working with You Gotta Believe, a nonprofit that works to find permanent families for older youth in the foster care system. Anthony and Debbie decided to collaborate on a project with You Gotta Believe that would give their students the opportunity to be advocates themselves.
First, Upper School students visited Anthony’s class to teach their younger peers about You Gotta Believe and the foster care system. Then, representatives from the organization came to Calhoun to talk to students about advocacy, sharing skills and strategies which ranged from letter writing and public speaking to “artivism” (using art to raise awareness of a cause). Using the methods they had learned about, Middle and Upper Schoolers collaborated to create posters and write letters to local politicians that they brought to City Hall.
After a spirited rally at City Hall led by Upper Schoolers, all of the participants had the chance to meet with local officials. The passion was palpable in the room as younger and older students alike challenged their local representatives on the issues they had researched in class. “I’d like to know what the City Council will do to protect kids in foster care – not just what they want to do,” said one Middle Schooler. “How has the City Council sought to get a child’s perspective on this issue?” asked another.
This real-world experience acting as advocates not only taught students more about the government, it inspired them to take action on the issues they care about. “I appreciate the fact that the school gave us this opportunity because it’s opened my eyes to ways that I can start to advocate in the future,” says Shanely P. ’21. “No matter how old you are, you can advocate for a cause,” she added. Indeed, the students saw firsthand how powerful it can be when young people use their voices. “Our voices are going to be heard the loudest if we’re the next to be leaders – so we think we can have the biggest impact,” says Sarah V. ‘21. “We are the future.”
The student rally was featured on Spectrum NY1 News. Click to watch the clip.