Students and teachers from across Dutchess County presented their findings about social justice and cultural sensitivity at the Dutchess BOCES Transformative Classroom Youth Conference on May 21.
The conference was held at the Murray Student Center at Marist College and featured keynote speaker Jevon D. Hunter, Ph.D. Dr. Hunter is the Woods-Beals Endowed Chair for Urban Education in the School of Education and an Associate Professor in the Elementary Education and Reading Department at SUNY Buffalo.
Students shared what they learned about culture and real issues happening in schools today. Topics included income inequality, empathy, violence, social justice, illiteracy, mental health, and English language learners.
“Congratulations! We are here to celebrate the work you have done,” said Dr. Hunter. “You did something important. I see today as being the seed to something that will grow into something spectacular.”
Dozens of students and 38 teachers representing Dutchess BOCES, Arlington Central School District, Beacon City School District, Spackenkill Union Free School District, Pawling Central School District, and Wappingers Central School District participated. Work began with professional development session for the teachers. Students joined the effort in January.
Dr. Hunter encouraged the students to think about what they can teach teachers, how teachers can challenge them better, and what they would do to make school a better place to learn. “Adults have a lot learn from young people,” he said.
Presentations included display boards, speeches, PowerPoint presentations, and videos. Children from all grades asked their fellow students questions and shared their experiences. Students from the Dutchess BOCES Alternative High School spoke about how they feel people wrongly stereotype them as “bad kids.” They explained through interviews, poetry and art that the alternative high school simply offers the supports some students need to focus on academics and successfully graduating.
“The goal was to create and implement lessons to raise cultural awareness and sensitivity,” said Dutchess BOCES Deputy Superintendent Cora Stempel. “This is not like bringing a cultural dish to a food fair. It is talking about the real issues that are happening in schools and demonstrating that students, even as young as first graders, can impact what is happening in their schools and communities.”