As she endeavors to succeed Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) as the Fifth City Council District’s representative in the 2021 elections, school social worker Tricia Shimamura hosted several New York City students in a Zoom session Tuesday evening to share their thoughts and concerns about the reopening of city schools in September.
Shimamura began the conversation, where she drew attention to the “Youth Council” she created to incorporate youth voices from around the city into her campaign.
“I’m a firm believer that our students are brilliant and hold so much promise not only for the future of our city, but our nation at large,” she said. “As we make tough decisions about reopening our schools in this crisis, it’s critical that we listen to and lift up their voices.”
“Students across our city are already facing an inequitable education system and biased standardized testing, and low-income students and students of color are facing compounding inequalities that must be addressed. I’m grateful to work with these students in my campaign and so impressed by their gracefulness in such uncertain times. I will continue to make room for young people throughout my campaign and my work. The perspectives of young people are important and should be valued and taken seriously.”
Dori Newman, a recent graduate of the Spence School, discussed her difficult choice to take a gap year before starting at Yale.
“I found that remote learning was really difficult for me, and I really value that in-person connection with a teacher and I imagine a lot of other students do as well,” she said. “For me, I really wanted my freshman year experience to have that start of making these connections with professors that I knew would be determinative in how I would shape my college experience and in turn my career. So for me, I think, the decision came down to: how do I want my freshman year to go? And for me that was, ‘I need in-person connection.'”
Akiko Jindo, a rising senior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, expressed a desire for greater transparency between education officials and students and their families, declaring the status quo was undoable for low-income families.
“We actually have to decide by August 7th if we want blended learning or full-time remote, and really we’re not provided with adequate information to make that decision,” said Jindo. “It’s also important to address the variation in household conditions. I have four younger siblings and I have a dad who gives lectures virtually, and often it’s too loud in the background for me to even participate. The evaluation process has to change somehow.”
Amarachi Alozie, an incoming senior at Columbia Secondary, grilled local authorities for failing to accommodate less privileged students when the adjustment to remote learning began.
“Why did it take you so long to address the inequalities of students?” asked Alozie. “Why did you take so long to give lower income families laptops or notebooks? Why did it take you so long to realize there’s a healthcare problem? Why did it take so long to evaluate the problems of your city before the pandemic?”
As the conversation died down, Shimamura reiterated the importance of youth opinions in shaping the best possible policies she hopes to pursue. “As long as this campaign is going and even afterwards, I will continue to make room for you,” she assured the students.
“If you want a role or say and want to help shape our platforms, particularly as they impact people and families, I want you there.”