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Palmer P. '23 - Cooper's Troopers Day of Service

What was the inspiration behind your project?

In the third grade, a close friend of mine named Cooper Stock was struck and killed by a taxi driver while crossing the street with his dad. The fight to create safer streets is important and often overlooked. Due to this personal tragedy, I began looking into urban planning policy as I got older. As I continued to interact with urban planning, equitable transportation and community policy, I began to see that it is not only a matter of encouraging safer driving practices, but also a systemic issue relating to the way cities are organized all around the world. 

Cooper’s Troopers Day of Service has been held yearly since Cooper's death to educate students about urban planning, participate in community service, and memorialize Cooper. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper’s Troopers Day of Service was held over Zoom. My project aimed to bring back Cooper’s Troopers Day of Service as an in-person event, and create an institutional framework for urban planning education and community engagement to continue after our class graduates in the spring of 2023. 

Could you tell me more about the process of creating your project? How did you bring your idea to life?

Since my project included students from all three divisions who have different schedules, coordination between division directors and myself was a challenge. Despite these difficulties, all three division directors were incredibly receptive to my ideas and facilitated the day to its fullest extent. I created traffic safety, public transportation safety, and urban planning curriculums for students in 3rd through 8th grade. This process required a lot of research, particularly into the teaching styles that the younger students best respond to. I consulted curriculums taught under the Vision Zero initiative in New York City, curriculums taught in other private schools around the country, and I asked Lower and Middle School teachers for advice. I recruited 15 student teachers from the Upper School to teach these students. They did an amazing job!

I partnered with two wonderful organizations: Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets. Cooper’s mother has been a member of Families for Safe Streets since his death in January 2014. One wonderful representative from each organization visited Calhoun on June 3, 2022. They spoke at an assembly for the Upper School about urban planning, and shared personal anecdotes regarding the importance of open streets. They also taught the Middle and Lower School students. Anna Melendez and Kate Brockwehl, from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets respectively, were an absolutely integral part to making this day happen. They provided me with insight, support and guidance every step of the way. Additionally, Shula Puder (Council Member Gale Brewer’s Chief of Staff), stopped by at Calhoun to field questions from fifth graders regarding open streets, Transportation Alternatives 25x25 program, and other urban planning initiatives. 

So much of Cooper’s Troopers Day of Service emphasizes the reasons for his death and does not place emphasis on who he was. I organized a memorial for Cooper for the Class of 2023 (the class that Cooper would have been a part of). We walked, as a class, to 97th Street and West End, now named Cooper Stock Way. A couple of my peers who knew Cooper said some kind words. I reiterated why we were standing on that street corner and  adorned the street sign with flowers. I read a letter from Cooper’s mother, as seeing our class in person reminded her that her son was gone forever and that he would never grow up as we did. I received incredible love and support from my peers that day, especially from those who did not know him.

Cooper’s favorite sport was basketball, so I also organized a Cooper’s Troopers Faculty Basketball Game, where teachers and faculty from all around the Calhoun community played 5-on-5 basketball in front of the whole school. We had announcers, student coaches and referees, and livestream broadcasts with a separate set of commentators. I sold Cooper’s Troopers t-shirts at the game to raise money for Transportation Alternatives. Almost 20 teachers and faculty members volunteered to play in the basketball game, which is a clear testament to the bond shared by all members of the Calhoun community.

There’s no one I owe the success of Cooper’s Troopers Day of Service more than to Lee Kasper [former Upper School Theater Director]. Lee was my advisor during Junior Workshop, and he gave me helpful advice every single day. Not only was he invaluable to the preparation of my project, he also lent a helpful hand during the day itself. 

What did you learn from Junior Workshop? What was valuable about the experience?

Before Junior Workshop, I had never taken on such a lengthy project. It gave me a chance to reflect on what I’m passionate about, and take steps to create something that I thought was worth creating. I learned new research skills about effective childhood and adolescent pedagogy, urban planning in New York City and around the world, and a lot about myself. Taking on a passion project that has no clear definition besides “create something new and truly you,” can be extremely difficult, but also rewarding. A passion project forces creativity and genuine engagement. 

What's next? Do you plan on continuing to pursue this idea/interest further?

I plan on trying to get this curriculum instituted permanently in Calhoun, but I also plan on pursuing politics/law/urban planning in college.