City of change: Innovation in urban education takes forefront of film screening, discussions at SU

Chase Gaewski | Photo Editor

(From left) Derek Koen, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and Ouida Washington, one of the filmmakers of Beyond the Bricks, an assistant professor at Columbia University and another one of the filmmakers, respectively, speak at a panel about urban education at Eggers Hall on Feb. 6.

The audience cheered as 14-year-old Jasanique Everson walked to the front of the room in Eggers Hall and took her place at the podium, smiling with self-confidence. She appeared calm speaking in front of the crowded room of people.

“We have these stereotypes, labels and hurdles that we have to overcome at such an early age,” said Jasanique, an eighth grader at Danforth Middle School. “People don’t address it. They make it seem like a small issue. So it’s nice to see that the issue is being addressed here.”

Referring to the film “Beyond the Bricks,” a documentary about black male students in the urban schools of Newark, N.J., Jasanique articulated the dilemma that urban students face. With constant media scrutiny of high crime rates, poverty and demographics, the issues often go overlooked.

The half-hour film was shown Wednesday at 4 p.m., followed by a panel discussion.The panel discussion turned into an open dialogue, which spurred the overwhelmingly positive audience reaction to Jasanique.

This was the first screening of the Landscape of Urban Education Lecture Series, presented by the Syracuse University School of Education. The movie focused on the unsupportive academic environment that two black male students faced. Through difficulties and challenges, they felt as if they had to conform to the culture of failure.

“Do we have the courage to disrupt decades of these negative outcomes?” said Yolanda Sealez-Ruiz, an assistant professor at Columbia University.

Citing Mary Poppins, which received a laugh from the room, she said: “Anything can happen if you let it.”

SU is having discussions with those in urban schools similar to those highlighted in the film.School administrators want to help students in these situations that are driven, hardworking individuals, and have the sort of ambition found in urban schools.

Urban education graphic


One school that is going through physical and program developments is Fowler High School. The school is currently going through its second year of renovations, and half of the school is sectioned-off in tape and plastic drapes. The refurbished section, however, is something that Fowler career specialist Susan Centore is proud of.

The changes in the culture of the school are something she insists could not have happened without SU’s input.

“For a long time, people wanted to work with us, but it wasn’t until the chancellor came when it was not only OK to work with us, but it was encouraged,” said Centore. “With there going to be a new chancellor, I’m very nervous. If SU was to go away and ignore us, we’d function, but we’d be ashamed.”

Not only has SU been involved with Fowler High School in multiple Say Yes to Education programs, but Fowler students have also pursued many artistic projects and field trips with SU. These include writing workshops, art labs and trips to Syracuse Stage.

“It just is a shining light for the kids,” Centore said. “Going up on the college and seeing that academic work is being celebrated, it helps validate students, and by going up, it allows them to have opportunities that they don’t normally have.”

Motivation for academic success is also seen in four sophomores, who have called themselves the “Wolf Pack” since kindergarten, and are involved in the Say Yes to Education program at the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central, another urban school.

They’ve fought for each other, they’ve stood up for each other and now, they’re determined to go to college together with the help of Say Yes.

“They are determined to go to school,” said Briana Mangram, an academic success coach for Say Yes who worked with the group, representing merely a fraction of the students she has worked with in her career. “They all know exactly what they want to do.”

One of the “Wolf Pack” students is so invested in the program that he wrote and delivered a speech thanking George Weiss, creator of Say Yes, when Weiss visited the ITC.

Say Yes also offers programs dedicated to elementary school students and those who are offered scholarships through college. One student, Abdirahman “Abdi” Ali, was able to work through the Say Yes program at William Nottingham High School. Ali is now a Say Yes scholar at Onondaga Community College, but because of Say Yes, Ali has had many opportunities at SU as well.

“I’ve been able to meet a lot of people at SU,” Ali said, a computer information systems major graduating this year. “I’ve been able to network and work on my resume, and if I ever need anything from Kristi, I can call her.”

His mentor, Kristi Eck, program director at Say Yes, said he is one of the students who not only received the Say Yes scholarship, but was also able to attend the Say Yes summer academy, a six-week program that is entirely paid for.

Ali emphasized that Say Yes hasn’t only helped him, but has helped his siblings as well, who are exposed to Say Yes in elementary and middle schools.

Stephanie Costner, program manager at Say Yes, encourages people not in the program to recognize the efforts being made.

“If anyone has a minute, a day or an hour, they should head down to one of these schools and see what Scholarship in Action is all about,” Costner said.

All of the experiences urban schools both face and embrace are experiences that shape not only their community, but the SU community as well.

As Jasanique Everson took her seat, the filmmakers and audience members congratulated her. People reflected on the inspiring words that had been spoken that night, both by students and adults.

Said assistant professor Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz: “I just have one final question: Will you join us?”


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