We are the School in the Square (S2) intergenerational participatory research collective. From June 2019 through February 2020, we were a multi-racial, multi-generational participatory research collective of what Charles Payne might call “ordinary people” including twelve 8th graders (now 10th graders), three Guttman Community College graduates, an oral historian, a school counselor, and a professor of critical psychology collectively documenting how we, and our peers, were navigating the transition to high school, across 32 schools, in a deeply segregated city (NYC). In March 2020, our point of analysis shifted, radically and painfully. Now we are bearing witness and documenting history, in an even more unequal city, from the perspective of youth of color (aged 14 – 16), from immigrant, mostly Dominican families, living in Washington Heights, Harlem and the Bronx. In this project, we are chronicling a history of the present by exploring how young teens, largely Latinx, are surviving the pandemic, making sense of the racial uprisings and negotiating online learning in dramatically uneven contexts. We write from “The Heights”, drawing on narratives gathered by young people who see themselves (ourselves) as researchers, activists, community members, social analysts and care-givers. Last year was the first year of our five-year longitudinal project. Twelve of us—then 9th graders—conducted 56 interviews on “transition to high school” from our 8thgrade graduating class. In March 2020, due to the pandemic, followed shortly by racial justice protests, we saw an opportunity to document the experiences of young people, surviving within intersecting historic crises. Our work has led to several significant findings:
- For NYC youth of color, the protests have served as a moment for youth empowerment and popular education, filling in the gaps whitewashed from secondary school curricula.
- Culturally responsive education that positions students as knowledge producers transforms youths’ ability to engage in, and influence the movements that are defining their generation.
- Digital learning is not a supplement for in person schooling and augments the already vastly unequal landscape of education in NYC.
- As wealthier communities fled the city in times of COVID, immigrant communities of color remained in NYC as “essential”, yet underpaid. They/we were devastated by sickness and death, without the ability to access their families abroad.
- Despite the disproportionate negative impact on The Heights, our community has pulled together, helping each other with mutual aid and support.