Students discuss school design in a COVID-19 world during youth-led think tank

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The kids discussing their ideas for schools in a COVID-19 world.

A youth-led think tank recently tackled how schools should look and operate in a COVID-19 world.

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, The Thinkubator Solves held “The Thinkubator Solves Solution Day,” a program delivered in partnership with The Thinkubator, DreamYard and nonprofit HERE to HERE. The Thinkubator trains, educates and connects Bronx youth to work-based learning experiences, employment and educational opportunities.

A group of young people worked with Meisha Ross Porter, executive superintendent of the Bronx, to present solutions for schools during COVID-19. Ross Porter was quite impressed with the kids who participated in the program.

“I thought both presentations were really thoughtful,” she said. “This moment has forced us to collaborate in a different way.”

The first challenge was, “how do you maintain and build a strong school culture while following social distance guidelines?”

They looked at school culture and what it meant to them. The kids considered how schools functioned and focused on community, understanding, support and safety.

The students who worked on this challenge included Jada Ebron and Diana Ortega from South Bronx Community Charter High School, Carolina Hernandez from Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics and Jordy Gonzalez from The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology.

“This was a challenge,” Ebron said. “We thought it was just going to be about school policy. When we really sat down and talked about it, we came up with stuff we felt very different about. This really taught me not to look at myself and my thoughts and challenge myself more.”

Some ideas they came up with were to hold COVID-19 classes, where kids are educated about the pandemic. They also felt classes should be once a week, mandatory and in-person or virtual.

Since COVID-19 is a serious topic, the youths recommended learning about it using fun activities, such as Jeopardy. The students also want to hand out face masks and hand sanitizers and do community outreach in low-income communities.

“This is basically the start of a new journey,” Ortega said. “I don’t expect everything we presented to be implemented. Your solution or idea can actually change the world.”

The challenge for the second group of kids was, “how do you maintain/build a strong school culture while keeping in mind social distancing?” The students in that group were Julia Gil and Sumaiya Neha of University Heights High School, Yudian Villalta from The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology and Yaritza Castillo from Bronx International High School.

The teens focused on advising and said it can set the groundwork for academic performance, create stability, comfort for other students and builds a student support system.

The group came up with pre-advising, where there would be virtual video tours for new students and teacher introductions. They also touched on college and career counseling, which focuses on interest career match, resume building, interviewing and college options.

Lastly, the students talked about collaborative advising, in which the teens would work in groups, with a teacher or one on one. They also stressed that mental health must be a part of everything in school due to the stress brought on by COVID-19.

“Personally I think this experience has taught me how to collaborate with others,” Villalta said. “It really made me think outside the box.”

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