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Four members of the student-led Baltimore Algebra Project spoke to the Baltimore City School Board greater youth control of education

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JON GRAY: I’m Jon.
RAYSHON MOORE: And we work for the Baltimore Algebra Project.
JON GRAY: Basically the Baltimore Algebra Project is a youth-led organization that focuses on educational matters within schools and all forms of issues that we see in Baltimore city that we want to take on, so, like, we can address at the time.
I’m currently a student at Baltimore City College.
IVAN ROBERTS: I’m a student at Bard Early College High School.
RAYSHON MOORE: And I am a classroom aid at Career Academy.
IVAN ROBERTS: All right. And today, we are talking about youth involvement. A lot of times at these meetings, y’all talk about now youth voices are important. How you want to get youths more involved in the communities. Youths more involved in taking control of their education but when we come here, there’s not a lot of youth. You guys don’t really promote in schools to get youths to come. You don’t really have ways, and when youth come, there’s not really ways for them to come because these meetings end at 8 o’clock, the bus passes end at 8 o’clock. So, there’s not really a way home or a way back to where they need to be because some of them need to catch two buses, one bus. And then, so, y’all could extend those bus passes. Y’all could promote in schools when we have School Board meetings.
JON GRAY: Also, all of you guys are on the school board, but, like, none of you are, like, in school. So, at some stage, we would like to have, well, not at some stage. We would like to have, right now, options for youth to be on the school board because they’re the ones in school. All the issues that you guys address is something that affects us, right? So, why shouldn’t we be addressing it?
Also, at school we promote, back to school nights. We get, there’s going to be a back to school night. There’s going to be, like, this event. We need to hear the same things about meetings like this. So, we can address needs, if there’s a problem.
RAYSHON MOORE: One of our final points is we want to see youth controlling their education. So, part of that is youth being on a panel but we also would like to see culturally appropriate, like things about our culture as people of color in our books. We would like to learn more about us. We have this European style education that we would like to push it a little more towards people of color.
JON GRAY: The last thing we were going to talk about. So, the way, this should happen is so, there are different groups like Baltimore Algebra Project that you guys could talk to. We’re here and we got cards, phone numbers, emails and stuff like that. You guys, like, need to talk to us, so we could tell you, like, how this needs to go. It needs to happen so, like, needs to happen right now, so that we can better judge these problems.
CHERYL CASCIANI: We intentionally changed the meeting so that public comment always started at 6:00. So, there’s, we always have that first, so as many young people that want to sign up to speak can speak. I wanted, the meetings tend to go longer than 8:00. You’re right. So, that set up with the bus passes, it may not always be possible to stay for the full end of the meeting, so this may not be the best forum to, like, have longer conversations. So, I definitely would encourage you to come. We do need to advertise the School Board meetings better in schools. But I think we should also look for some other forums.
I think we heard earlier about the effectiveness of the for, of the Town Hall meeting last night to talk about the weather-related issues and I think there’s a kind of an active conversation among the board that we really want to explore ways to have other forums where we can come to schools and just talk to people.
I also want to encourage you, if you want. If you guys have a meeting and you want school board members to come just let us know and invite us. I mean, I think there’s no, there’s nothing, because I think we do want to be in better dialogue with your group and other groups.
On the second point, there is a student member of the school board, she’s just not here tonight. It’s Ashley Penga. We actually don’t, it’s the structure of the school board is dictated by state legislation. It was changed last year just to change the appointing authority. I would suggest if you would like to change that structure, I’m going to acknowledge, this is an inadequate answer, just it’s a technical answer. You can work with your legislature, work with some legislation and introduce legislation and ask for more student representation of the board.
JON GRAY: Y’all have more, you guys would have more of an impact than we would.
CHERYL CASCIANI: Actually, that’s not true. No, that’s an honest answer. Having school board members advocate for changes in school board structure, we’ve seen that in the past hasn’t really carried the day. But this is a conversation we should have. This is where we, if you want to talk about this, we can certainly talk about this. We’re not gonna solve this now, but it’s certainly worthy of conversation. Minister Bondima.
MICHELLE HARRIS BONDIMA: Thank you. First, I’d like to thank you for coming because it was very impressive that you’re here and asking such wonderful questions, but the truth of the matter is that students carry a lot of weight. And one of the projects that I would like to see happen with you guys and young ladies who are involved is to have, take an opportunity to do a, get some permission from your school and take a field trip to Annapolis and ask to speak. And I think that that will go very, very far because just the act that you’re here at this time of the evening is very impressive. Okay?
And also, Commissioner Hassan sitting here, we were listening to you talking about the fact that your bus passes do not go after, you can’t use them after 8:00. We need to think of a way that…
We need to think of a way that, if you’re here, if you want to sit here and see the whole process and it’s after 8:00, we will find a way for you to get home as far as finance. I mean, you know what I’m saying? We’ll think about that because just the mere fact that you want to be here goes a long way.
And I want to say and I’m sure the board would like to say thank you for coming.
DAIJAH HILL: 30 million dollars was just put into a youth jail and I still don’t still have high quality education and I feel like that 30 million dollars could be used for more educational purposes and for one of those things money could be put into our transportation to meeting on the board. And it should be put into us having high quality food and a lot of other things. So, I think that should be addressed too. As well as, like, being on the board and I think that the youth would be more able to address it and be able to tell where the 30 million dollars should be going instead of into a jail.
PETER KANNAM: As we adopted new standards and curriculum to the common core, we actually, as a board, and as a team of the teaching and learning have looked at all of the literature that’s studied grade by grade, how the history is being taught grade by grade and I actually is wondering if Chief Conley is that something your department has?
Like, we have an approach to… culture. It’s not all the way there. We have to improve on it but we’re not starting from zero. The team’s been working on doing a better job with that over the last five years or so. And so, I was wondering if that’s a possible, Dr. Santelises. Just the idea of, you know, what our approach to cultural response to curriculum is we have made a lot of progress in that.
SONJA BROOKINS SANTELISES: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re made a lot of progress but I think one of the things that we acknowledge, which I think gets to the point about, that’s been a theme both last board meeting, last night, is being able to communicate and dialogue about that, right? So, I think one of the things when you look at the approach that teaching one of these take to the curriculum, there’s one piece that is yes, we’re working with the American Reading Company, yes, we’re working with TNTP.
The other piece of that is who are the individuals that we are working with, right? To inform, for example, the development of identity, right? For adolescents particularly in middle grades and high school, right? That are rooted in basically having the opportunity to explore who they are, who their community is, and the individual educators are working were on it. And that doesn’t come out in a quicker response to one question that was very passionately asked earlier on. And so, I think it gets to the larger need to be able to have dialogues that are forums where we hear from the community but also where there’s an exchange. Because those are the kinds of things that you can’t list out in a five-minute, you know, actually probably a two-minute response.
So, part of what we acknowledge is one, there as been some work done with that but what we also acknowledge as we have begun having conversations with folks who have really given concentrated, frankly whole careers to looking at what it means to have culturally relevant teaching and, frankly, how that is linked now to identity development. And we actually have examples here in Baltimore City where that has led to increased student achievement.
So, part of the work that the middle school group is looking into is that, Dr. Pfeifer, who just had her baby a few days ago, so she’s not here. We’ve had discussions about how we include in our college and career ready trajectory that kind of work. But those are the things that, again, you know, as we work on this challenge and the board does too, of how we’re having dialogue and exchanging with community and young people, I think create a larger voice for that.
Oh, go ahead.
SPEAKER: I’ll wait until the end.
SONJA BROOKINS SANTELISES: And the other piece I just want to… do you want me to wait for this?
CHERYL CASCIANI: I want that to wait until the end because I think that’s a nice punch line. I want to reinforce that before we go to Commissioner Hassan, I made a big reference earlier in the meeting on this business about, you know, sort of, more and different kinds of forums for dialogue. It was Christina who brought it up, the very first speaker. It’s about being about relationships and you can build better relationships when you figure out more and different ways to talk to each other. So, this is one forum. There’s the ten speakers, the three minutes, and that’s… a lot of that’s about, if we open it up for a million speakers, we will be here all night and it ends up so that when you end up voting on important things and discussing them, there’s only five people left.
So, we know that this is actually not an adequate forum for all the relationship building and dialogue. I mean, I can’t say it better than what, how Christina said it. So, we’re committed as a board, we just started talking about this tonight, so I can’t say, like, this is exactly what we’re gonna do, but I can commit to you as a board that we’re gonna come up with some different ways to not… point, when she will speak more formally about it, I’m sure.
You know, different, not official school board meetings, but we can go to a school and have a conversation. “Hey. We’re gonna be at this school. Let’s just, maybe you can tell us where you want us to come.” Let’s think about more and different ways where we can be in dialogue with each other. I think it’s a great idea and it’s come up from a couple of different speakers. We’re seeing how it works better when we kind of, we’re all talking together.
IVAN ROBERTS: We’re all happy to do that… We have ways to speak to mass amounts of students.
SPEAKER: And we’ll allow you, we’ll follow your lead. We’ll let you tell us where you want us to come.
IVAN ROBERTS: And another thing, right? Y’all said today y’all just started talking about different forum to reach the masses; right?
CHERYL CASCIANI: No. I didn’t. I’m sorry that’s, what I meant was, we know there are other forums where we can go to talk. What we want to think about is how to officially expand the ways that the board is engaging you people. I’m not denying there’s all kinds of different ways already. I don’t want to dig myself into a hole in that. We hear you and we do want to be in different kinds of dialogue and relationships.
IVAN ROBERTS: Wait. One more question.
SPEAKER: The Commissioner was talking.
MARTHA JAMES-HASSAN: So, first off, again, thank you for coming out. I’m a huge fan of the Algebra Project and your leadership and all of you. But all politics is local. So, while you might not be able to get the voice of Annapolis, right now, there is the Associated Student Congress. Which, if you saw earlier in the meeting, recognized groups get five minutes at every meeting. So, that is an organization of your peers throughout the city that have a dedicated time of five minutes. So, I would suggest you find out who are your, you guys with me?
Cool. You find out who are your representatives in your school. If they don’t have a dedicated representative from The Algebra Project, that’s where you start. Get yourself a seat on that organization. I don’t know what their constitution’s like. I don’t know what their policies are, but from that place, then you get a district student level voice. You get the opportunity to present here at a guaranteed time every time and I believe that it’s from that group that we select our student commissioner.
So, become, see where your involvement can be through your student government through the systematic student government so that your voice can be added to the voice of the students that we do hear from fairly regularly.
SONJA BROOKINS SANTELISES: I just want to thank Chief Scroggins and Jon Land for surfacing this. The challenge with transportation in terms of coming out. We do have student fare passes that we can give you so that you actually can take transportation past 8 o’clock. I mean not, you know, not that that you’re still gonna get everything done that you need to getting home late but just so that the transportation is not an issue. We can make these passes available to young people who do want to come to board meetings and stay past that time because there’s an issue either from you all as representatives of Algebra Project or from some of your friends and colleagues and peers who might want to come out. We are able to make these available to you so that you actually can have access to public transportation past your S-Pass time. And if you want them now, I’ll make sure somebody gets them to you. Okay?
I’ll bet you do. I’ll make sure we get them to you. It’s now. They’re now. Thank you.
RAYSHON MOORE: Thank you kindly.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.