Visions for Justice - A conversation series of participatory practice - Safe Schools

This is the second conversation in our Visions for Justice discussion series. Every other week, we will be examining key issues for justice as it relates to participatory practices by learning from organizers on the ground who are reimagining public safety, centering community-led decision-making, and divesting from systems that harm us to invest in thriving communities.

In this conversation, we were joined by an expert panel discussing safe schools & implementing Participatory Budgeting (PB) in school communities. Participatory Budgeting Project’s Director of Democracy Beyond Elections, Elizabeth Crews, talks with Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval, Educator from the Phoenix Union High School District, as well as Francesco Tena, Director of Participatory Budgeting Youth Fellowship from Coro New York Leadership Center, and Ryan Lynch, Chief of Staff from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office.

Cyndi shared her experience of launching the PB process in Phoenix back in 2013 at a small school in order to increase voter registration, to provide civic engagement opportunities for students, and to allow students to learn about democracy through practice. Phoenix has successfully continued to implement PB processes in new schools throughout the district every year, with over 17 schools now incorporating PB as a way to amplify student voices, build agency, and leadership capacity in school communities.

From a government perspective, Ryan explained that his office believes in PB in schools because “it’s a great way to empower young people during the council process.” He talked about the importance of empowering and engaging with marginalized communities in democratic processes, and providing resources and training for engaging with civic affairs. Governments and budgets can really change how communities are affected, and for that, PB is key.

Francesco echoed the sentiment of empowering young people by having them hold real responsibility, and how PB allows students to draw from the expertise of their lived experiences in decision-making processes. He explained that, “everything in your life comes from practice. And so being able to expose young people and put them in positions of power where they have to negotiate, where they have to consider, where they have to empathize with folks, I think builds some really strong muscles from a really young age, and builds behaviors to get folks prepared for a whole life of those behaviors.”

The panel reviewed recommendations for high school students or school community members that are interested in starting the conversation of PB in their school district, such as who to engage in your school campus and reaching out to your elected officials – highlighting that it’s not necessarily about coming up with a new pot of money, but identifying what’s already there and organizing the community to figure out what to do with it together.

They also pointed to the power of PB in this moment of heightened focus on the role of police. In both NYC and Phoenix, students are leading city-wide conversations about public safety both inside and outside of schools through PB. Ryan said that the Brooklyn borough president looks to youth “to lead the conversation about public safety and police reform.” Francesco shared that many NYC youth groups that are actively doing this work as well, such as Integrate NYC, Teens Take Charge, and Girls for Gender Equity. Cyndi highlighted how students in Phoenix have been doing a lot of work to demand accountability from police, through efforts like organizing a walk on school safety, and being vocal at city council meetings and board meetings.

Make sure to tune into the whole conversation to learn more about the panelist’s approach in creating the context necessary to create change, and steps they have taken to make sure that underrepresented voices in decision-making are part of the conversation with PB.

If you found this conversation interesting, there’s more! Join us every other Wednesday at 7pm ET / 4 pm PT for an intentional and cross-movement conversation series about how we can meet the demands for justice in this moment, how participatory practices bring us closer to radically different realities, and how we can grow and build together.

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