At a meeting last August with Leadership ISD’s Civic Leaders Fellowship, a selective 10-month program of 47 civic leaders who learn about and discuss public education in Dallas County, Director of Service Learning Laura Day and her group brainstormed the idea to re-create this program for high school students.
Day then collaborated with Coordinator for Social Justice Education and Service Programs Michael Reimer from Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and Leadership Teacher John Oberly from Thomas Jefferson High School to create a pilot program for a public-private partnership series, in which students from private and public schools could discuss and propose solutions to educational issues in Dallas such as unequal access to resources, the fear of deportation and the segregation of public and private schools.
“This is the kind of stuff that I want [Hockaday] to be doing. Real world stuff out in the community,” Day said. “This is where the real learning happens.”
On Feb. 2, Day sent an email to sophomores and juniors to recruit students for the Teen Leadership ISD pilot program, which she described as a plan to “gather students from diverse schools to build relationships and explore pressing educational issues and concerns – particularly issues of justice in education – within [Dallas].” Additionally, the students would create solutions in groups after analyzing the issues and meeting with Dallas education officials.
At TJ, the sophomores and juniors in Oberly’s leadership class, which focuses on the students’ personal growth and creating programs that will benefit their school, also joined this program.
The eight Hockaday students chosen by Day met with about nine students from each of the other schools at TJ for the first meeting on Feb. 16. Several of the TJ students gave the Jesuit and Hockaday students a tour of the TJ campus and facilities upon their arrival. Junior Julia Mitterer-Claudet said that many of the Hockaday and Jesuit students had never toured the inside of a public school.
“It was very eye-opening because you saw that [TJ was] so un-equipped but [was] making the best of it,” Mitterer said. “There were certain aspects that were the same though like bad days at lunch.”
The first meeting consisted of icebreaker activities in order to let the students get to know one another and open up about their stories. This was new to most of the students since these three schools rarely connect with one another.
“Never are we hanging out with TJ kids,” Day said. “I think that’s kind of a tragedy because there’s so much to learn from each other because we all have different life experiences.”
Oberly also views the collaboration of public and private school students as beneficial to the community.
“We’re all in the same space,” Oberly said. “We all want excellent outcomes for everyone in the community.”
Hockaday hosted the second meeting on March 23. After a Hockaday campus tour, Day discussed with the group how to approach a problem and how to build empathy with those affected by that problem.
To further this discussion, District 8 Representative on the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees Miguel Solis and Principal of Foster Elementary Zack Hall spoke to the Teen Leadership ISD pilot program. Solis talked about the power of education and some of the issues that the DISD system faces such as individualized learning and the deportation and immigration crisis. Recently, several DISD schools are having to send packets to the families of students that discuss what to do and give resources in the event that children come home and their parents are gone.
Sophomore from TJ Marla Perez liked the honesty of Solis’ speech, because she agrees that there is nothing more powerful than being educated and having a career.
“He was Hispanic like me,” Perez said. “Listening to him, I thought that if [he] can do it, then I can do it, too.”
The principal of a predominantly Hispanic school, Hall also honed in on the immigration crisis, how children aren’t able to focus on school in the face of this issue and segregation within the public and private school systems in Dallas. Each of the students received packets and immigration forms to see the stress and difficulty of being undocumented in the United States with children.
“For a lot of us, especially Jesuit and Hockaday kids, deportation doesn’t personally affect us,” Mitterer said. “There were all these issues happening so close to us, but we’re totally oblivious to them.”
Junior Neha Dronamraju, one of the Hockaday participants, heard about someone’s first-hand experience with the fear of deportation instead of reading it in the news. She was captivated by this situation and, motivated by it, met with Day to develop an independent study for next year which will focus on setting up a backup system for undocumented families.
“A lot of times, these families are asked to fill out forms disclosing who would take care of their child in the event that they are deported,” Dronamraju said. “Many families don’t have anyone here to do that, which causes a lot of stress.”
Students in this program met for the third time on April 6 at Jesuit, where they created a list of the issues in the Dallas education system that they wanted to focus on. The students then split into five groups, in which the groups brainstormed solutions and created an action plan for the problem. Topics in the groups ranged from equality regardless of circumstance to students’ needs in a school to the segregated city theory, in which Dallas has ethnically divided schools with unequal access to resources.
“It’s nice to see that the issues that I thought that people at Hockaday cared about are echoed by other completely different schools,” Mitterer said.
Mitterer’s group hoped to create a solution so that everyone gets an equal opportunity with education regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or other factor. One of their ideas was to create a website that offers an online tutoring and mentoring program so kids and their parents can always have access to resources or someone who can help over the phone.
“We need equal opportunity for all students,” Perez said. “[TJ students are] not getting the same opportunity as [Hockaday and Jesuit students], and it makes me feel a little inferior to [Hockaday and Jesuit] because I’m not learning at the same rate as [Hockaday and Jesuit students].”
Another group thought of a system in which DISD schools share resources with one another, similar to how Hockaday and St. Mark’s School of Texas share athletic facilities like tennis courts, track fields and workout centers.
Even though there aren’t many programs like this one that involve teenagers, Day thinks that it’s important to get high school students involved in these issues because high school students have the ability to create solutions.
“[High school students] have a lot of energy, idealism and heart,” Day said. “We wanted to bring these kids together, break the barriers, teach them some stuff, give them the tools and then set them free to create change.”
Oberly also wants to see more initiative from students in the community.
“I think that high school students need the capacity to believe in their own power in being agents for positive change before they leave high school.”
Day will continue to meet with people invested in the Dallas education system from Leadership ISD, as well as with Reimer and Oberly from Jesuit and TJ in order to make plans for the continuation of this program into the next year. Day’s goal is to extend the public-private partnerships such as one with the Greenhill School, Parish Episcopal School and W.T. White; another between St. Mark’s, Episcopal School of Dallas and Hillcrest High School and more throughout Dallas County.
Day’s other goals are obtaining funding for the initiatives that the students discussed and opening a space in North Dallas where students from all schools can study together and share their study materials.
“We can make this a thing that teens do in Dallas so that they take ownership of creating change in their own community,” Day said.
Maria Harrison -Asst. Features Editor-