Bronx Adolescent Skills Center Sit-In
Until very recently, the students of the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center (ASC) TASC Program were taught math by a phenomenal teacher. This teacher sadly had to go on medical leave early in 2017, which left them feeling hopeless. The students went from learning math in a fun and interactive way, to being sat in front of a computer to learn math independently. The week of March 26, 2017, the students decided that they were not going to simply take what was given to them. They decided to express their frustrations as a united group and protest in hopes of getting a new math teacher.
For months, the students have learned about civil rights and peaceful protests. Our staff at the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center encourage the youth of the center to advocate for themselves, especially when that advocacy is related to their mental health challenges and the types of accomodations to which they are entitled. These conversations have complemented their school Social Studies lessons in the history of civil rights and peaceful protesting in the United States. Taking these lessons from history and their personal experiences to heart, the students decided to put what they learned into practice.
The protest was organized entirely by the students themselves, with support from Adolescent Skills Center staff. The students wrote a letter to their school Assistant Principal outlining their concerns. Below is an excerpt from the letter the students wrote:
“The students of District 79 at the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center currently feel that we are not being taught math correctly. We are wondering if a teacher can be brought in to teach us math so we can have a better understanding. With the TRA’s taking place on April 5th, students feel like they will not pass the math section which will hinder them from taking the TASC exam at a later date…In conclusion we would really appreciate if you take the time out to help us out in this difficult time of the year.”
The students also signed a petition to accompany their letter. Parents got involved by calling the Re-Start Academy’s superintendent, Tim Lasante. Two students called the principal of Re-Start Academy, Joan Indart-Etienne, and voiced their concerns directly to her as well.
On Monday, March 27, the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center staff helped the students organized a peaceful sit-in protest instead of going to math class. The students gathered tables, chairs, and other materials to draw signs for their protest with the help of ASC staff. The day of the sit-in, the students’ Assistant Principal joined them and listened as they expressed their concerns about their education. The students stood together, bold and brave, and unwilling to take no for an answer.
I attended the protest with other Bronx Adolescent Skills Center staff. Together, we stood with the students, prepared to offer them any support they needed. We told the students that they did not have to take what was handed to them due to their circumstances. The students did not know what the outcome would be, but they were prepared to continue advocating for what they needed. The day after the protest, a new math teacher was sent to teach our students.
The staff of the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center, as well as all of MHA-NYC, are extremely proud of these students and their parents for their activism, dedication to their education, and courage to advocate for their needs. After the protest, the students and staff displayed their protest posters in the hallway of the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center. We hope that this story inspires other youth to advocate for the change they want to see within their schools and community. Students never have to simply accept what is given to them, no matter their circumstances. There is strength in numbers.