October 28, 2019
Stephanie Pacheco knows what school segregation feels like.
“I’ve been around black and Hispanic people my whole life,” said Stephanie, a Bronx resident who is now a junior at Manhattan Science Center. “I didn’t see a white person until my first white teacher in the fourth grade.”
Her story is an experience shared by many of New York City’s students of color. As of the 2018-19 school year, only 28 percent of the city’s public schools are considered diverse.
To play a role in changing this dynamic, Stephanie joined Teens Take Charge, a student-led advocacy organization whose members have emerged as the new faces of the fight to integrate New York City’s segregated school system.
“Knowing that I’m doing this for my people gives me hope.”-Stephanie Pacheco, Teens Take Charge Activist.
For their dedication to ensuring all students have access to quality education programs, CCC will honor Teens Take Charge (TTC) with the Vanguard Award at its 2019 Breakfast Celebration on October 30th.
“It’s really good to know that someone is watching and someone heard us from the steps of Tweed,” said Shelda Francois, a Teens Take Charge advocate, referencing the old Tweed Courthouse that is now the headquarters for the NYC Department of Education.
“Knowing that we’re not just yelling into the void — that there is a call back — is super rewarding,” said Ula Branevicius, also a TTC advocate.
Since the group’s inception in the summer of 2016, Teens Take Charge’s brand of activism — which has included confronting Mayor de Blasio directly during his weekly “Ask the Mayor” call-in segment on WNYC — has ensured the topic of the city’s segregated schools remains front and center.
When the Mayor was unable to provide concrete answers on his plan integrate schools, the group decided to hold a rally last summer in front of the Tweed Courthouse. Alongside 400 students and adults from various backgrounds, they collectively demanded Mayor de Blasio integrate the NYC schools.
One key obstacle stading in the way of integrated schools are the admissions tests that determine eligibility for the city’s nine specialized public high schools. Teens Take Charge believe the tests are more a measure of someone’s income bracket than academic prowess.
“It’s not really testing intelligence,” Shelda said. “It’s testing who has money and resources. As a black woman, I have so much more to bring to the table.”
As part of its Enrollment Equity Plan, TTC is calling for this practice to be discontinued. Instead, they believe a more equitable solution would be to offer seats at these specialized schools to the top 7 percent of students from every school.
The group is also calling for an improved high school directory and academic diversity among all city high schools by ensuring at least 25 percent and no more than 75 percent of each high school’s incoming freshman has passed state tests administered in high school.
What makes TTC so cohesive and compelling is the diversity within their group. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds, they are a model for what classrooms should look like and stands as proof that diversity is powerful.
“I think our testimonies are really what draws the attention of policy makers and adult allies to look at us differently” said Shelda.
Of course, as with any kind of progressive activism, backlash is expected. The young advocates of TTC have endured confrontations with students and adults opposed to integrating schools.
“Integrated schools are important,” Ula said. “If they grew up with black and brown kids in their schools their views would be so different.”
However, having full belief in their cause helps them cope with such ordeals.
“Knowing that I’m doing this for my people gives me hope,” Stephanie said.