Our Power Will No Longer Be Ignored Because of Our Age

Photo by Kristen Graham

“Our Power Will No Longer Be Ignored Because of Our Age”

On the morning of March 14th, Juntos along with the Philadelphia Student Union organized the “Student Vision for School Safety March.” Thousands of young people across the city of Philadelphia walked out of their schools and put forward their vision for true school safety means. Juntos youth member, City Perez-Nieto, a Junior at Science Leadership Academy adressed the crowd with the following words.

Speech cowritten by Cindy Perez-Nieto & Odalys Peralta of Juntos

“Good morning everyone my name is Cindy Perez-Nieto. I am a junior at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber and a youth leader at Juntos.

I want to start off by saying that we stand in solidarity with the young people in Florida, who have been protesting and spreading the word about the importance of school safety after the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.

Now, this issue has been going on for too long. It has come to point where this issue has been normalized, we aren’t surprised anymore when we hear about another mass shooting. We now have gun rights activists trying to arm our teachers but we know more guns is not the solution. I honestly don’t know what I’m more afraid of, if there could occur another school shooting or knowing that my teachers might be armed in school. As a student, I believe that arming our teachers is not the right solution.

With so many regulations our schools already feel like prisons. Schools are supposed to be a place of learning and we need to feel safe in order to learn. Having more police officers in schools is not helping with our learning so a first step it to stop investing in cops and start investing in infrastructure such as counselors to help better our education.

Our priority should be on improving our academic level. We need to face the fact that gun violence isn’t the only issue in our schools but the criminalization of schools are also important. The underfunded schools in our city are largely populated by students of color, these schools have metal detector, cops, but don’t have counselors, nurses, or teachers

What we’re seeing out in the streets today is a clear example of what real power looks. School safety has been an issue for many years and for many years politicians have stood by and done nothing. Today, we the young people of this country are saying “enough is enough!” It’s time for action and it’s time for change.

Now we all know that the School District had told many of us that we could only participate in a 17-minute walk-out in honor the victims of tragic Florida shooting. However, we, the students of Philadelphia, know that the issues of school safety extend past Florida.

For many of us, our schools have not felt safe for as long as we can remember. For us to have safe schools we must think broader than only gun regulations.

Safe schools mean schools with more counselors than cops.

Safe schools mean schools with equal funding.

Safe schools mean schools where we don’t fear the presence of ICE.

This is why those 17 minutes were not enough for us if we wanted to bring attention to these issues and make an impact in our community and schools.  This is why I am here today, to make my voice be heard so that the voice of many youth out there is also heard. Our power will no longer be ignored because of our age.

We are going to make a change in our community and this change starts with us, the youth. Thank you.

Estudiantes Se Dirigen A El Distrito Escolar: “No Nos Penalizen Por Protestar”

Estudiantes Se Dirigen A El Distrito Escolar: “No Nos Penalizen Por Protestar”

En la semana de el 5 de marzo, una carta de el Superintendente de el Distrito Escolar de Philadelphia, El Dr. William Hite, fue circulada a todos los directores de el distrito escolar y de algunas escuelas charter tambien. Mientras la carta empieza apoyando el derecho de los jovenes en protestar y hacer una huelga el 14 de marzo, el tono cambia rapidamente y dice que los estudiantes solamente podran participar en la protesta por 17 minutos. Lideres jovenes de Juntos y el Philadelphia Student Union escribieron la siguiente carta en respuesta.

Para el Dr.William Hite & Los Directores del Distrito Escolar,

A llegado a nuestra atención una carta que ha sido circulada la semana pasada a los directores de las escuelas de El Distrito Escolar de Filadelfia y varias escuelas chárteres también, declarando que El Distrito Escolar de Filadelfia apoyaba la manifestación dirigida por los jóvenes planeados para el miércoles 14 de marzo. En esta carta había apoyo inicialmente para el activismo dirigido por los jóvenes, pero el tono de la letra rápidamente cambia y declara que los estudiantes solo podrán participar en la manifestación por 17 minutos. Nosotros, los estudiantes estamos extremadamente decepcionados en las restricciones que nuestro distrito y nuestros líderes escolares están colocando a nuestro derecho a protestar y demandar cambio.  

Estamos en solidaridad con los estudiantes de Florida y entendemos el significado de la manifestación de 17 minutos y también creemos que necesitamos un espacio para hablar de los cambios necesarios en Filadelfia para verdaderamente asegurar que nuestras escuelas están seguras. Para nosotros, tener escuelas seguras significa más que regulaciones de pistolas. Para nosotros seguridad significa contratando más consejeros y trabajadores sociales en vez de policías, disminuyendo la criminalización de jóvenes negros y marrones y creando prácticas de justicia restaurativa para remplazar las políticas de cero tolerancia que nos gobiernan todos los días. Ahora es el momento para liderazgo más creativo en estableciendo la seguridad en nuestras escuelas y esperábamos que este sería el momento donde podríamos trabajar juntos hacia esta visión. Por esta razón hemos decidido reunirnos afuera de la oficina central de El Distrito Escolar de Filadelfia y marchar a el Ayuntamiento. El trabajo para mejorar la seguridad de nuestras escuelas tarda más que 17 minutos y es más que una marcha, pero la oportunidad de estar lado a lado con otros estudiantes, padres, profesores, y aliados es un paso hacia lo que necesitamos hacer más en esta ciudad. Sentimos que limitando nos ha solo 17 minutos, nuestras voces están siendo silenciadas. Esto no es apoyo verdadero como fue comunicado en el Philadelphia Inquierer. La oportunidad para escribir ensayos o cartas es importante, pero en actualidad no demuestra solidaridad y no es suficiente para dirigir cambio real. No debería ser una opción en un día que miles de estudiantes a través de todo el país estarán manifestando para destacar un problema importante para todos nosotros. Diciendo que respetan nuestro derecho a protestar mientras penalizando a los estudiantes quienes marchan por más de 17 minutos no es apoyo. Amenazando estudiantes con 0’s en sus examenes si marchan no es apoyo.

El 14 de marzo será un día importante para recordar. Quieren ser conocidos como líderes que apoyaron nuestras voces o los que nos retuvieron de nuestra visión. Si quieren apoyarnos completamente, tienen que dejarnos marchar por el día entero sin ser penalizados

Estudiantes de,

Academy of Polumbo
West Philadelphia HS
Washington-Vare Middle School
Furness High School
High School of Creative and Performing Arts
Mastery HS-Thomas Campus
Mastery HS-Hardy
Sayre HS
Science Leadership Academy
Franklin HS
Central HS
Franklin Learning Center
Bodeine HS

Miembros de:
JUNTOS
Philadelphia Student Union

Students to Philadelphia School District: “Don’t Penalize Us for Protesting”

Students to Philadelphia School District: “Don’t Penalize Us for Protesting”

On the week of March 5th, a letter from the Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, Dr. William Hite, was circulated to all district principals and many charter schools as well. While the letter starts off in support of the youth-led walkouts scheduled for the city on March 14th, it quickly shifts tone and states that students are only allowed to participate in the walkout for 17 minutes. Student youth leaders from Juntos and The Philadelphia Student Union wrote the following letter in response.

To Dr.William Hite and Philadelphia School Principals,

It has come to our attention that a letter was circulated last week to principals from the School District of Philadelphia and many charter schools as well, stating that the School District of Philadelphia was in support of the youth-led walkouts planned for Wednesday March 14th. In this letter, there was initial support for youth-led activism and organizing but then quickly the letter shifts tone and states that students are only allowed to partake in the walkout for 17 minutes. We, the students, are extremely disappointed by the restrictions that our district and school leadership is placing on our right to protest and demand change.

We are in solidarity with the students of Florida and understand the significance of the 17 minute walkout and we also believe we must have space to talk about the changes needed in Philadelphia to truly ensure our schools are safe. For us safe schools mean more than just gun regulations. Safety for us means hiring more counselors and social workers instead of cops, decreasing the criminalization of black and brown young people and setting up restorative justice practices to replace the zero tolerance policies that govern us on the daily. Now is the time for leadership that looks to be creative in establishing safety in our schools and we hoped that this would be a moment where we could work together towards this vision. This is why we have chosen to come together as one outside of the School District Headquarters and march towards City Hall. The work to improve school safety is more than 17 minutes and more than a march but the opportunity to stand side by side with other students, parents, teachers and allies in a step towards what we need to do more of in this city. We feel that by limiting us to only 17 minutes, our voices are actively being silenced. This is not real support as was communicated in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The opportunity to write essays or letters is important but does not actually show solidarity nor is it enough to lead to real change. It should not be offered as an option on a day when thousands of students across the country will be demonstrating to highlight an issue important to all of us. Saying you respect our right to protest while penalizing students who march beyond those 17 minutes is not support. Threatening students with 0’s on tests if they march is not support.

March 14th will be an important day to be remembered. Do you all want to be known as leaders who supported our voices or the ones held us back from our vision? If you want to support us fully, then you should allow us to march without being penalized for the full day.

Students from,

Academy of Polumbo
West Philadelphia HS
Washington-Vare Middle School
Furness High School
High School of Creative and Performing Arts
Mastery HS-Thomas Campus
Mastery HS-Hardy
Sayre HS
Science Leadership Academy
Franklin HS
Central HS
Franklin Learning Center
Bodeine HS

Members of:
JUNTOS
Philadelphia Student Union

Student Vision for School Safety March Demands

Student Vision for School Safety March Demands

On February 14th, the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School forever changed the Parkland, Florida community, after a gunman claimed the lives of 14 students, and 3 school faculty members.

This unfortunate and pervasive symptom of national neglect for school safety reform has galvanized the nation, igniting students across the country to step into activism that challenges calls for armed police and teachers, and promote solutions that actually improve the environment in schools.

Students at Stoneman Douglas, and other youth groups who had previously committed themselves to organizing for safer schools have called for gun control and implementing programs like restorative justice and other mental and emotional health programs. Yet lawmakers across the country are still choosing to disregard student voices and pass reactive legislation to strengthen police presence and curb opportunities to end gun violence.

At Philadelphia Student Union and Juntos, our members have recognized that this is yet another example of why young people and their allies need to shift the conversation around school safety.

Our youth leaders seek to share in solidarity with the Parkland student mobilization by bringing the conversation home to Philadelphia, taking leadership from our youth to set a vision for making sure our schools, communities, and hearts are centered in restorative relationships. On March 14th, at 11:30am, we will be leading the March for School Safety and inviting all students and allies participating in walkouts to march collectively with us to lift up the following demands:

  • Divestment from School Police Officers:- An improvement in mental health resources throughout Philadelphia cannot happen without an intentional and accountable effort to divest funding and shift budgeting from School Police officers to other necessary programs that actually promote a nurturing school environment. The expansion of police presence and security personnel/equipment in schools must end, as it only promotes a culture of fear rather than reinforcing the creativity and voice of students.

  • Comprehensive mental and emotional health services: We want all schools in Philadelphia to provide a comprehensive program for mental health services so students can be proactively and consistently supported when dealing with emotional, mental, and social concerns.

  • More guidance counselors and social workers: In order to address the violence affecting our schools, there needs to be a prioritization around hiring more guidance counselors and social workers, who have the training background specifically to support the emotional and mental state of students and to encourage the development of youth.

  • Expansion of restorative justice practices: Restorative justice is key in building relationships between students, parents, teachers, school staff and community. It is an alternative to the presence of police and armed teachers that promotes emotional intelligence and communication which are essential skills to be honed for use after graduation. Our schools require an intentional, and systematic effort for restorative justice programs for peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher/administrator mediation.

  • Protection for students and families from ICE arrests around schools: Over-policing in our schools only serves to further criminalize young people of color at the expense of learning. Immigration raids across the city have occurred in and around our schools and in homes which instills a constant feeling of fear that impacts young people’s ability to participate in their education. That is why we know ICE and police are two sides of the same coin for our families.Both are detrimental to our dignity and our survival, and we need to end their reach into our lives now.

  • Gun Control that does not result in targeted policing of black and brown bodies: Enact legislation that restricts the access of assault rifles, or weaponry used in mass killings without thorough screenings and processes for mental and/or emotional, criminal, or social concerns.