Students from Frederick Douglass' home of Rochester, N.Y. have a message for Governor Cuomo

As we celebrate Frederick Douglass on his birthday, we at The North Star thought it would be a good idea to hear from students from Rochester N.Y, his home and final resting place. So here are voices of students from East High School who penned a response to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address last month with their own State of the Students address.

Hello my name is Sarah Adams (8th grade) some of you might recognize me as one of the organizers of the school-wide walkouts, but I’m more than that. I’m a smart and talented scholar. I am also a product of the city.

I know so many other people who can also give themselves that label. I lucked out, for the most part I can say my whole experience as far as school has been good and I’ve been able to thrive. There are a few students who have told us their stories and in a lot of ways we’re just alike, the only difference is they didn’t get to show their potential in school without having to fight. I know people who have been placed in low-level classes simply because they “don’t look smart” to the teachers they had.

I also know some people who have advocated for themselves and got placed in the right classes. This is great, but not every student can advocate how others can and that’s not their fault. But, when you’re forced to sit in a classroom without a challenge, learning becomes something that kids no longer enjoy and look forward to. This is just one example of a problem and lack of equity for all students in our district.

We believe that the devastating teacher cuts have opened up a conversation about the greater issues in our district and as student advocates we have decided that we need to address them.

We have also realized that the adults, whose job it is to fight for us, have not stepped up. After hearing the address made by Governor Cuomo last month, we expected the worst, and learned the worst: that our voices and our education were not enough of a priority to him. He failed to prioritize our education. That’s why last month, we gathered at the Board of Education to no longer wait around for anyone but us to list out what it is that we need to succeed. You cannot seek out our trust until we know that the demands of the children of the City of Rochester are being heard.

Hello my name is Tatiyana Spencer (11th grade) I am the student representative on the board of education and my job is to advocate for students to the adults in charge.

We have a right to a stable and successful education just as anyone in the nearby suburbs do. We have a right to a safe environment free of being criminalized from the moment we enter school. We have a right to have more educators that look like us. We have a right to a positive and productive learning environment. The following is a list of priorities we are calling for our legislators and district to implement:

We have a right to adequate materials and resources. We should have access to calculators, and books free from graffiti and missing pages.

We have a right to better physical learning environments. We shouldn't have to walk through metal detectors to get to our classroom. We shouldn't have to use facilities that are missing locks and doors.

We have a right to more after school programs and opportunities. We want programs that will fuel our interests and prepare us for our future after high school. We want opportunities that will help us thrive. We have many interests we want to explore like cooking, afro-Latinx studies, cultural studies, art classes and real-world preparation, like financial literacy.

We have a right to a curriculum that reflects the student body. We are tired of a narrative that leaves minorities out of history and glorifies the progress of white men that is rooted in oppression. We want curriculum that highlights the contributions and achievements of more than the same 5 historical people of color.

We have a right to counselors and teachers that understand the population that they serve. It is the district's job to make this happen. We demand mandatory anti-racism and LGBTQI training. We want more staff that lived the same lives as us.

We have a right to more variety and choices in our schedule. We want a say in our schedule that allows us to take classes that speak to us and are geared towards our specific interests, including more language classes, advanced classes, art classes and career readiness classes.

  • We have a right to a more diverse population of educators. We want to see teachers and staff that represent us and can be role models for us.

  • We have a right to engaging content and teachers who are willing to teach using multiple methods to reach students with different learning styles.

  • We have a right to teachers who are willing to listen to their students and take feedback on how they can better reach their students.

  • We have a right to educators who stop relying on police and other forms of discipline and focus on restorative practices.

  • We have a right to educators that focus less on punitive measures and believe the best in us. We want teachers that treat us with the same respect they expect from us.

  • We have a right to better food. We deserve healthy food with options for everyone. We need nutritious meals because some of us rely only on the food we get from school.

  • We have a right to not feel criminalized walking into school. We need School Resource Officers out of schools because they do the opposite of making us feel safe. There are no police in suburban schools, so why are they in ours?

  • We have a right to the end of anti-black dress codes that harm black and brown students.

  • We have a right to the end of sexist dress codes that perpetuate rape culture and victim-blaming

  • We have a right to administrations that support our efforts and endeavors. We need to be encouraged to speak out and protest for what we believe in, not shut down.

  • We have a right to never have to face mid-year teacher cuts ever again. These cuts destroy classroom environments, ruin kids’ love for learning, and completely disrupt our education.

  • We have a right to have greater representation in the decision making for our district. We want opportunities to use our voices and more than just a student report, we want a vote on each and every proposal.

We are demanding that our voices are a part of the decision-making process that our state, local, and city participate in. We are demanding a fair and equitable education so that we can thrive and succeed just as anyone else. We are demanding an environment that supports us and listens to us.

We believe that stakeholders near and far have the potential to make the right decisions.

We believe that this student population has the potential to build up what was brought down.