Transcription of the episode “Students demand equity and inclusion: call for admissions, curriculum, counseling changes”

Jon M: [00:00:15] Hi, I’m Jon Moscow. 

Amy H-L: [00:00:16] And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff, Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guests today are Yarmis Cruz, Eli Crenshaw-Smith, and Tony Paperno, students at Beacon High School, a public high school in Manhattan. Yarmis is a senior and will be attending Northwestern University next year. Eli grew up in Brooklyn and will be attending Vanderbilt, and Toby is a junior and the Director of Strategy at Teens Take Charge. Welcome!

Eli C-S: [00:00:42] Good to be here. 

Toby P: [00:00:45] Thank you for having us. 

Jon M: [00:00:47] Would you tell us a little bit about Beacon. Why did you choose to go to Beacon and what have your experiences  been like? 

Yarmis C: [00:00:56] For me, going to Beacon,  I’m from originally from the Bronx, from a very underfunded area, and for the most part, I think I’ve gone to pretty good schools compared compared to the ones that are around me. But I knew that if I wanted to get the best resources, I had to go out of the borough and into Manhattan, and Beacon seemed like the best choice at the moment, at the time. 

Toby P: [00:01:21] So before Beacon, I went to Park Slope Collegiate, which is like one of the most diverse middle schools in New York City. And then before that, I went to PS 10, which is like a super White, heavily resourced elementary school. And I think being at Park Slope Collegiate, it was a really valuable experience for me. But then when I saw Beacon, when I saw, like, when I went on the tour of Beacon, when I saw like the shiny building, the shiny library and on the tour, they were like, oh, like, I can show you this, even though we’re not supposed to. And I saw, I went to the basement and I saw like 12 music studios and like full drum sets, I was like, wow, like I really want to go to this school. Because I also, I do play the drums. I’m a musician. I was like, the school just has all the resources that I want, like I can spend all day in the basement.

Eli C-S: [00:02:13] Um, and I think just the resources. Yeah. I chose Beacon for a similar reason. I’m also a musician and overall artsy person, I would say, and so I chose Beacon, I think, for the mix of academics and good arts that it has. And I think that comes a lot from the good resources that it has. And so I went to Math and Science Oratory School for middle school and Brooklyn New School for elementary school. So Beacon was always very talked about within both of those schools. And it’s a very, I would say, common path to go from Brooklyn New School to Math and Science to Beacon. So I was definitely not alone. And that comforted me as well to know that I would have other friends with me coming to high school.

Jon M: [00:02:57] And what have some of your experiences been while you’ve been there?

Eli C-S: [00:03:01] Mine has been overall really good. I would say for the reasons that I chose it, um, I definitely made a good choice. I’ve been in band all four years. I’ve been in the school musical. So I’ve definitely followed through with that plan of balancing arts and academics. And my academics have been overall very good. I would say one of the. more alarming things when I got there was the lack of people of–people who look like me, people of color. And I think my middle school was a tad bit more diverse and a little less wealthy. I am not sure if that’s true, but just from interactions I have with other students, it does seem like that. So that was a little bit of a change for me. 

Toby P: [00:03:46] I think for me,  freshman year, like right after I got to Beacon, like fulfilled and exceeded all of my expectations. I was playing on the ultimate Frisbee team. I was like in a band at Beacon and outside of Beacon. I would go to the library a lot and I think I was taking full advantage of Beacon’s resources. And at the same time, like the lessons were mostly interesting to me. I have like a pretty good set of teachers. 

But then I think after freshman year, when my mom, who also is involved with like some educational advocacy, started talking more about like the inequities in the school system. And then I joined this advocacy group called Teens Take Charge. I think that really opened my eyes to a lot of the things that I thought were good about Beacon, that, like I thought all the resources that we have, or like this, like this mix of high achieving students were good. I think I opened my eyes to see the flaw, like the flaws in that, in the fault and that, um, and I think, especially just seeing and like realizing everybody else around me has like, like their mental health is just like, I think, I feel like I say this a lot, but like being deteriorated. I think I noticed that more and more, the more time I spent in Beacon.

Yarmis C: [00:05:11] For the most part as a freshman, kind of similar to Toby, I was just in love with it. It looks nothing like the schools I had gone to previously and it just, it felt like a privilege and it is a privilege, honestly. Academically I’ve always liked to be challenged, and I was. I was going to bed at two, three in the morning doing work. And I loved it in that sense. And it wasn’t until after freshman year, where I would sit down and talk to my friends who tend to look like me for the most part, where we talking and be like, wait, but what are, what exactly are we learning? And is what we’re learning something that’s actually meaningful to us? And is it something that’s going to help me in life? And that’s kind of when I started to feel a little bit off about Beacon while still acknowledging the privilege that it is to go there.

Amy H-L: [00:05:54] So Beacon students have been very active in organizing throughout the school year. Students submitted a letter this month, demanding that a number of changes in how the school operates be implemented by the end of the school year. What are your most important demands? 

Toby P: [00:06:10] So I think our three biggest demands, like our three overarching themes. The first one is desegregating Beacon because New York City is the most segregated school system in the nation, and Beacon is kind of a microcosm of that. Like for example, we have like three times the amount of white students that there are in the New York City public school system percentage wise. And like our economic need index, the amount of free and reduced lunch people at Beacon, is 21% or lower while the economic need index, the free and reduced lunch rate, for New York Cty public school students is 71%. It’s above 70%. So the first demand is really just about desegregating Beacon, about integrating Beacon about, and more specifically creating a new admission system at Beacon because currently at Beacon, there’s these admissions screens. So there’s a portfolio.  There used to be an interview, but now there’s just a portfolio. You have to write an essay. Then there’s like a minimum requirement for grades to get into Beacon and test scores to get into Beacon. And that’s really what sorts out the people  who get into Beacon versus people who don’t get into Beacon. Bu I think our organization, the BUU, Beacon United Unions, has kind of realized that that’s more of a measure of privilege than a measure of how smart you are. It’s a measure of if you have the tutors. It’s a measure of if your parents can help you write the essay. It’s a measure of what extracurriculars did you have that you can put in your portfolio. I’m like, I can think of like a long list, that’s based on privilege that determines if you get into Beacon. So we want, we want to change the admissions at Beacon. We want to create a new hiring committee, to create new policies for these admissions, change admissions policy at Beacon. 

Um, and then the second one and desegregating Beacon is a new hiring committee because so many of the teachers at Beacon are white and especially in the history department, are white men. And we don’t think, we think the teachers at Beacon should be representative of the students and the students should be representative of the City. So we want to change hiring at Beacon to make the staff more representative of the students. And if you guys want to talk about that.

Eli C-S: [00:08:35] Yeah. And our second, so that was our first theme of desegregating Beacon and kind of desegregating all the people that are coming in, whether it be teachers or students. Our second theme for demands is racial justice within Beacon, or just making students feel safe within Beacon, because we understand that many many students of color as me and Yarmis have mentioned before, don’t feel represented within the student body and don’t feel heard by the staff. And so if we just accepted a whole bunch of new students of color, they won’t feel safe in Beacon, which is something that we don’t want. So our second group of demands is focused around making these students feel safe and that’s through a revision of curriculum within different subjects to make sure that our students feel more represented in what they’re learning, whether that be in history, math, in any subject, as well as professional development for teachers so that teachers can properly interact with the students they’re teaching and not offend them in any way, as well as enforcing kind of enforcing accountability. Just so that when students do misbehave on any basis, whether that be of race, sexuality, class, whatever, there is a proper method that the school can take to follow through for repercussions for those students, which is something that we haven’t seen in Beacon. 

Yarmis C: [00:10:02] The third thing would have to be mental health resources for students that are already in Beacon. I feel as though, we all feel as though the students, they may speak to certain people, but they don’t necessarily know that everyone has that one adult in the building that they can go to. I’ve been lucky enough to find one or two, but most of my friends don’t have that. And so we’re trying to create a support system for the kids there so they can, if they’re struggling with something, whether that is relating to race or not relating to race or just anything at Beacon, they can have that support that they might need, or to actually thrive in the school environment and actually be able to take advantage of all the resources that Beacon has to offer. 

Toby P: [00:10:44] I also just want to add that we also want each of these more student voice and more students involved and more transparency than there has in the past. A lot of times, I think throughout Beacon’s history, there’s been efforts of students, there’s been students advocating for different things and they’ve just been swept under the rug. And then Beacon itself doesn’t really reveal what they’re doing. They’re not really transparent with how they’re trying to make Beacon more equitable, more inclusive, safer. And so like an example is that admissions committee that I mentioned, we want students to have an equal say and that we want students involved in that. And the same goes for the hiring committee. And the same goes to, as Eli was talking about the revision of curriculum. We want teachers to ask the students, to listen to the students while they’re reshaping the curriculum to be more anti-racist and to be more culturally responsive and to be more student centered.

Jon M: [00:11:44] What you’re describing sounds a lot like an ethical school. Transparency, equity, mutual respect for everyone’s lived experience and funds of knowledge. Are there any more details that you want to add that you’ve been thinking about, what your vision, what the school would look like? If the administration suddenly said yes, we want to make this happen. 

Eli C-S: [00:12:07] I think this is a pretty broad thing, but just a school that’s open to changing, which is something that Beacon has not been whatsoever. A lot of the teachers are very stuck in their ways. So is the administration. And I think the students understand that change is needed because we don’t feel like Beacon is reaching its full potential. And so I think that’s one of the main principles of an ethical school is a school that’s open to change. And so I think that’s also one of the main things that we hope for through these channels.

Amy H-L: [00:12:41] Could you give us an example of what an anti racist curriculum looks like. 

Yarmis C: [00:12:53] Um, when I think of an anti racist curriculum, I think of one where obviously, if it’s an English class, there’ll be books that were written by people of color, but not just that. The discussions that are centered around the books are one where all the students feel as though they can participate. Not just whoever feels, not just like White kids. Cause that tends to be what happens at school. I actually know a lot where whenever we touch on the topic of race, the people of color tend to stand back and listen, because they don’t feel safe enough to share their experiences. And so as a way to be having this anti-racist curriculum, it would be a lot more of people talking about their experiences and then the people who haven’t seen or experienced those things can learn and can change the way that they behave to make sure that they aren’t doing anything that’s offensive or discriminatory, or just that isn’t productive in order to be able to move forward. Yeah.

Toby P: [00:13:52] Yeah. I just want to add on to what Yarmis said. I think that as a white person myself, I think it will be really helpful and we don’t learn about this enough,  like ways that we contribute to maintaining racist institutions and we’re complacent in them. And then ways that we can, that we can advocate for change within those institutions and try and change those institutions. Because I think right now we may learn, we may learn a bit about what’s happening in society today in broader terms, like what’s happening in current events, like what’s happening in the world, what’s happening to the U S, but we don’t learn about specifically how all of these, like institutions overlap and create the society that we live in today. And we don’t learn how to create change. We don’t learn how to make ourselves advocates. I think the only reason us three are advocating for change right now, it’s not because I don’t think Beacon taught us that. I think like for myself, I think it was Teens Take Charge. I don’t know what, how they learn, but like Beacon does not teach you how to advocate for yourself.

Amy H-L: [00:15:12] Toby, could you tell us a little bit about Teens Take Charge?

Toby P: [00:15:17] Oh, sure. Teens Take Charge is a student led organization that was formed in, I believe, 2017 or 2016. I joined like a year and a half ago. And so we’re fighting for equity for younger kids and fighting for equity in education in New York City. As I said before, New York City has the most segregated school system in the nation. And so we create policies. We advocate for change. We try and meet with the policy makers to try and implement policies and we really just try and make it so New York City is an equitable place to live for younger students and for students in general. And so we have, we have campaigns, particularly around admission screening for high school or summer youth jobs or various things like that. And we try and also promote student voice. So the largest stakeholders in the school system, the ones who actually are being affected have a voice in the system and have input in the system.

Jon M: [00:16:24] So I wanted to go back for a minute to the question, say about curriculum. So it sounds as though the teachers, as well as the administration, would have a lot of work to do to implement, to really make real some of the things that you’re talking about, even if they agree with them in principle. What do you see this as being, what, kind of, do you see teachers, you know, forming study groups? Do you see them having certain kinds of professional development? I mean, what would, if again, if the school said, yes, you’re right, we need to make these changes. What would, what would the teachers, to take one group, what would they have to do next? 

Yarmis C: [00:17:06] I think for them, it would definitely have to start with professional development. I’ve talked to a lot of, uh, a lot of teachers who think they’re doing anti racist work in their classroom, but it’s not coming across that way to the students, which I think is where the problem starts. Because if a student comes up to you and tells you, this is not what I’m getting from your class, and you think that you’re changing it and making it work, and the student can come to you telling you the same thing and it’s not changing. Then it has to be a professional who has to come to you and tell you, this is how you need to be treating the conversation in your classroom. This is what you need to be doing. So professional development definitely has to be where it all begins. 

Eli C-S: [00:17:44] I think also it’s extremely valuable for teachers to actually ask students what they think rather than students having to approach someone. They don’t feel represented in the curriculum or they don’t feel safe in the classroom. And so I think that’s really important because it’s an extremely vulnerable and scary thing to do to approach a teacher and tell them that what they’re doing is not working. So I think one of the first steps is in addition to professional development, just having maybe some kind of meeting with a few of the kids in their classes asking what’s going well, what’s going wrong, just to start those conversations so they can actually get good feedback from the students.

Amy H-L: [00:18:27] Could you walk us through the developments that have led to where we are now? What was the first big demonstration, I think it was in the fall, and how did it come about? 

Toby P: [00:18:37] I think I can talk about the first demonstration. So the first demonstration was actually, it was in November or October, I believe, like about a month before the sit-in. So I guess November, but it was a part of these strikes that Teams Take Charge, the organization I’m part of, were doing around admission screening and around lack of like an equal and equitable distribution of resources and schools. So we were doing like 30 minute walkouts of schools every Monday, and one of them we had at Beacon and that had a New York Times article about it, and we put up posters around the school showing like Beacon’s representation versus New York City’s representation, Beacon’s student body demographics versus New York City student body demographics. And I think all of these things led to change in discussion, change in mindset at Beacon. I think people started talking about race while having these conversations more about how to make Beacon more equitable.  And I think that was a thought in many students’ mind before the students…

Amy H-L: [00:19:50] What were the demands in that demonstration, back in the fall? 

Toby P: [00:19:54] So that was, as I said, it was part of the greater Teens Take Charge. Greater Teens Take Charge set of protests and our first demand, our first policy that we wanted passed, was a universal change to high schools in New York City, to the admission system to make a academic bell curve for admission. So that would make the placement of students at each school more representative of the city, and it would lead to greater integration of high schools. 

Then we had resource demands. The first one was about having more guidance counselors and college counselors and schools. And we wanted a ratio of one counselor for every 80 students. And then the second one was about sharing extracurriculars, sports teams, clubs, and some courses between nearby or co-located schools. So for example, some schools don’t have like four years of science or four years of language, and then like a school, like two blocks away might have like six language classes or like six science classes. So if a student runs out of courses there, they could take a language course or a science course at that school. And the same goes with sports teams. If a school doesn’t have sports team, they could go to the other school’s clubs and extracurriculars. And the last one, we wanted paid internships for all students. And we wanted a work based learning coordinator at every school to help coordinate these internships. And so that was really what we were demanding at each rally we went to. 

Jon M: [00:21:34] Then, after that, there was an incident in December in the guidance office, which a lot of students felt was an example of white privilege.

What happened after that?

Yarmis C: [00:21:46] Well, a group of students, the incident happened on a Tuesday and then on a Thursday, when people started finding out, a lot of them went to the Black Student Union, which met normally on Thursdays. And after the meeting where after we let out all of our anger, as much as we could, um, among students, we went on to, we just stayed back instead of going home, we stayed back, a couple of us, and we were talking about how, like, this tends to happen at Beacon so often.

There’s just so many things that go unaddressed by the administration, or if they do address it, it’s not addressed properly. So we decided that it was, this was probably the best time to force Beacon to change because that’s the only way that we can do, we have to make them want to change. And so we started reaching out to people through social media. We got all the unions together because we wanted to make whatever movement we were going to create as inclusive of the student body as we could, and the best way to do that was by using the student unions. So we put, posted, things on.

Jon M: [00:22:45] Yarmis, I’m sorry, when you say the unions, what are you, what are you referring to? What are the unions? 

Yarmis C: [00:22:50] I’m referring to the student unions. So we have the Black Student Union, the Latinx Student Union, the Jewish Student Union, Muslim Student Union, the African association. Uh, there’s a lot more. There’s a couple more. If you guys want to tell me which other ones I might’ve missed. I don’t know.  There’s a lot of them.  

Eli C-S: [00:23:10] Teens Take Charge and Integrate NYC are also included.

Yarmis C: [00:23:14] Sorry. Yeah, right. So we got all the leaders from those clubs and we came together. We asked all the students, like the entire Beacon population to come into the cafeteria the next day, so that Friday, at the end of the day, and to just come together and talk about what had happened and what we think is the best thing moving forward. And we decide that hosting a sit in was the best thing to do. So the people who decided, the people who came together to stay at the BU we stayed all of that weekend at home on calls, constantly creating the demands, organizing how we thought that Monday, the following Monday would go, how it would run. And then we just, we prepared. And then that Monday we came together, we got up really, really early. We went to bed at 2:00 AM on the Sunday, and then we got to school by maybe like 6:30 that day. And we all travel like an hour to get to school. So we had, we all had to wake up pretty early, and then we organized everything before the students got there, without the help of teachers, because we knew that if we wanted to do this we wanted show them that like, as students, we know what we want and that we were able to organize it just as well  as they possibly could. And so that day, I mean, if you guys want to tell them…

Toby P: [00:24:30] I just want to say that we did five hour Zoom meetings before it was cool. But after that, so after what Yarmis  was describing, we had like a three hour long, three hour plus long, meeting with a lot of the Beacon administration, with the principal and assistant principal or both assistant principals, the guidance counselor that was there when the incident occurred. And then there was also like the student voice manager from the DOE. We also had like two superintendents there. I think one of them was in charge of like Beacon’s consortium that it’s a part of, and then the other one is a part of like Beacon’s district. And then we had like two or three Beacon teachers and like seven students, I believe.

And so we all just sat there talking about our demands, discussng implementation for like three plus hours. It was a super tiring meeting. It’s like the longest I’ve ever been a part of. And I think in the end, most of our demands, what we agreed on a timeline for implementation with most of our demands.

Eli C-S: [00:25:43] Also while, while we were in the administration meeting, different members from the student unions were leading teach-ins on the different floors of the school. So all the students who were sitting in weren’t just sitting idly, not doing anything. They would teach lessons on whatever they usually talk about in their student unions to kind of get people comfortable with the idea of having a student union that they can go to and having other students that they can talk to. And so that was really empowering, I thought. And that was one of the parts that the teachers expressed a lot of gratitude for. Just like, because it’s students teaching students and this idea of carrying forward this legacy of teaching within Beacon, I thought was very powerful and a lot of other people did as well.

Toby P: [00:26:26] Yeah. I also just want to quickly say those, I think those teach-ins were in part inspired by a school boycott in 1964 in New York City. It was on February 3rd, which is my birthday. And during that day, like 450,000 Black and Brown students walked out of New York City public schools to protest school segregation. And there was no media. There’s not really any media coverage of it. There was media coverage of 15,000 white parents having a protest about anti-bussing, like a month later. But during that school boycott, when all those students walked out, they went to these things called freedom schools instead, which is where leaders from around the community taught lessons on Black history or anti racism and various other things. And I think that’s what we were sort of trying to mirror and those teachings and the citizens.

Amy H-L: [00:27:26] And how did it go? How did the sit ins impact interactions among the students and between the students and teachers?

Yarmis C: [00:27:35] I was one of the people that was running a lesson and it was, I was not expecting it to go the way that it did. It was  a mixture of students. There was Black students, there was White students, Brown students. Everyone was just together sitting on the floor and they were all listening to other students, like other fellow 17, 16, 18 year olds. We were teaching them about, in my case, we were talking about stereotypes and the things that we go through and how certain comments can affect us. Yeah. But they were just, they were listening and they were talking to one another and they… for one, probably in my four years at Beacon, for the first time, the White students were listening to the students of color and they were trying to understand, and they were asking questions and they felt comfortable asking those questions, things that they’ve been wondering for probably the longest time but were too afraid to ask. I think there was an entire section about how do you ask these questions without being offensive or making someone feel as though they’re being attacked in any sort of way. It was amazing., I got to say. And I think it happened on every single floor that I went to. I went to three different floors and everyone was just as attentive. It wasn’t like, oh, so you’re trying to tell me what to do. I was like, please tell me what to do cause I have no idea. 

And then when it came to the teachers, because they had no one to teach that day, no one was going to class and they they had to stand in the hallways and look at other students teach other students, the ones that probably don’t participate, because I am always really scared of like, talking about my experience and they were looking at me and they were like, oh, so she does have a voice. And after that, they would tell us the next day when we went to class, they were like, wow. Like I just, I never expected 120 students to be listening and not talking. Not even side conversations were happening. They were paying attention. They cared about what we were saying, which I think would happen a lot more in class if they were incorporating the right materials.

Amy H-L: [00:29:35] And how long did that last? 

Yarmis C: [00:29:39] The entire day. Athough the talk that day happened the entire day, but then after, for weeks, we were talking about the same thing and teachers actually kind of tried to ask how they can do it in their own classrooms. But there wasn’t, it wasn’t enough change that came from it, but it was enough to see that something could be done. It gave us hope for the future, which is why we ended up doing what we did now, recently, in June. But they did ask questions. And they tried to understand, and they asked why they couldn’t do that in their own classrooms and why the discussions that were happening in the hallway, they couldn’t bring into their own classes. 

Toby P: [00:30:18] Yeah. I just want to say something that was cool after the sit in. I think the week after, like we had this essay due for my English class. I forget what it was about. It was not the most interesting book, but then I think after like the day after the sit in, my English teacher was like, yeah, I can’t give you guys this essay. And so instead of the essay for like the fi as a final project for that semester, we had, we had to write about like our experiences during the sit-in and thenli ke interview other people and or, like make a podcast or however you want to present it and then turn it in and just document what happened during the sit-in. And I think that was really cool, what she did. 

Jon M: [00:31:01] So this brings us to the present. And you’ve written this letter in which you’re demanding that the administration follow through on the promises that were made in the winter time, by the end of the school year. Um, how much support has your letter received and what, if anything, has surprised you aboiut the support?

Eli C-S: [00:31:24] As far as like actual hard numbers, I think we have around 973 signatures, 174. 

Toby P: [00:31:33] Actually, I can update you on that. We have 1023 right now, and we have 17 teachers that are signed on, 404 students. 456 alumni, which is super surprising, just that amount of alumni that had like signed on like bing bam boom. And we have, I think one thing that’s also really cool is we have three professors that are signed on. We have Gary Orfield. He created the report in  like 2014, he helped cocreate with the Civil Rights Project the report, that named New York City as the most segregated school system in the nation. And he does like amazing work with the Civil Rights Project. And he’s been doing that his whole life. And then we have Deborah Archer, who’s also amazing. She teaches at NYU and she’s professor of law. She’s actually helping Teens Take Charge with some work right  now. And then we have Michelle Fine, who’s a distinguished professor at the City University of New York. And it’s just really cool to have that support, I think, from professors, who’ve all done amazing work in civil rights. 

Eli C-S: [00:32:42] I will say one of the things that has surprised us or that did surprise us was the lack of teacher support, or I guess not a lack just because there are 17, as Toby said, but it’s definitely less than we expected. And we’d hoped to get a lot of teacher support just because we felt that teachers were one of our strongest ways to get through to the administration. But there was a lot of complaints about teachers not agreeing with every single word of our demands. They didn’t feel they could sign on or they were worried they would lose their job or other things, but we we’ve been talking to teachers about it and a lot of them are in support and just worried to sign their name, unfortunately. But yeah. 

Jon M: [00:33:23] Have you received any response from the administration? 

Toby P: [00:33:27] Um, so one of our demands from the sit in  back in December was that we have monthly meetings with the administration, and that’s one of the demands they’ve actually followed through with. I don’t know how much they’ve been paying attention and like actually like hearing what we say, and what we talk about in the meeting with administration, but we have been having monthly meetings with them. And so we scheduled one for this month actually on June 10th, that might have to be rescheduled, but we released these demands to them and they confirmed that we’re having a meeting. 

Amy H-L: [00:34:06] How does what’s happening at Beacon fit in with what other students are doing at other New York schools?

Toby P: [00:34:16] I think I can answer that. Um, so I feel like I’ve been talking a lot. A lot of other schools, students at other schools, have actually reached out to the BUU and have started similar things at their schools, like advocating to the administration, addressing the atmosphere of racism in their school. And actually something interesting is that as far as I can tell, it’s only been students at schools that have admission screens that are doing this advocacy. And I think that could be telling of what these admissions screens do, separating these students and it’s been sort of amazing to see like just a movement, like at Brooklyn Tech, LaGuardia, The Clinton School, I think Eleanor Roosevelt, and more, other majority White schools that have also been doing this, like similar things that we have been doing. I think the walkouts in November kind of helped with that in unifying a lot of these schools, just in that we all understand that we’re going through these same issues and it’s like, well, Beacon is an example of school segregation. I think all these other schools are going through the same thing. And so after the sit in, one thing that I’ve seen is our BSU and Brooklyn Tech BSU have been having collaboration meetings as well. We’ve been in touch with Harvest Collegiate, I believe. And so that’s been really empowering just to understand that a lot of schools don’t have a Beacon United Unions, and they’re learning from that and taking from that because I think it is so vital for the future of all New York City schools. And not literally, not literally a Beacon United Union, but something along the same lines. 

Jon M: [00:36:15] What connections do you see between the Movement for Black Lives and the student activities at Beacon and other schools? 

Eli C-S: [00:36:23] I see a lot of connections just because obviously the Movement for Black Lives is in support of Black people and I think all of our demands are in support of Black people and other people of color as well, obviously. But I think understanding that there is a way that you can affect change in your immediate circle is really important right now because a lot of people are calling for big systemic change and an end to institutionalized racism, which nobody can end, obviously, because it’s so ingrained in our country. And so I think it’s very empowering for students to feel like they can affect one institution that plays a bigger role in institutionalized racism and that does actually make a big change, I believe. 

Amy H-L: [00:37:10] Is there anything else any of you would like to add that we haven’t touched on? 

Toby P: [00:37:16] I just want to say as a general message, I think as White people, complacency and racist institutions make you racist. I think the only way you can fight that is by actively advocating for changes in these institutions. And I think you can only be racist. You can only be racist or antiracist as a White person.

Amy H-L: [00:37:40] Thank you so much. Eli Crenshaw-Smith, Toby Paperno and Yarmis Cruz of Beacon High School. 

Eli C-S: [00:37:52] Thank you. 

Jon M: [00:37:53] And thank you listeners. If you liked this episode, please subscribe and give us a rating or review. This helps other people find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles, and subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to offer customized social emotional learning, or SEL, programs with a  focus on ethics for schools and youth programs in the New York City area. Contact us at We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Till next week. 

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