This paper aims to provide insights for educators seeking to enact culturally responsive-sustaining education and research in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The authors examine what happened when the community-based Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) initiative they engaged with traditionally marginalized high school students was interrupted as a result of physical distancing necessitated by COVID-19.
Data for this inquiry were taken from a broader on-going ethnography of youth’s participation in the YPAR project and included audio and video recordings from meetings of the YPAR initiative and messages exchanged between and among authors and youth. Authors used components of culturally responsive-sustaining education and theories related to student voice as an analytic frame through which they considered how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced their work.
Three findings are examined in this paper. They consider: how youth participants and the authors stayed connected after they were no longer able to meet in person; how youth chose to center the needs of the subsidized housing community where they lived while continuing their work; and how youth and authors navigated the uncertainties they encountered in looking ahead to future possibilities for their study as the pandemic continued.
This study provides urgently needed insights for educators and researchers grappling with how they may enact culturally responsive-sustaining education and research during the COVID-19 global pandemic and beyond.
Marciano, J.E., Peralta, L.M., Lee, J.S., Rosemurgy, H., Holloway, L. and Bass, J. (2020), "Centering community: enacting culturally responsive-sustaining YPAR during COVID-19", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 163-175. https://doi.org/10.1108/JME-04-2020-0026Download as .RIS
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited
The March 11, 2020 weekly meeting of the Youth Voices Project, a community-based Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) initiative in the US Midwest, was supposed to include planning for a community send-off to be held the following week. The event would celebrate the work high school student participants planned to share at a youth research conference two days later at a college campus a 236-mile drive away. However, instead of talking through details of students’ research presentations and creating invitations for the send-off to be shared with community residents and local educators, the youth grappled with the news that their trip to the conference was cancelled, the celebratory event would not take place and there was a chance they might not be able to meet in person the following week. While the decision to close schools throughout the state would not be announced until the next night, at an 11 pm governor’s press conference, COVID-19 was already directly impacting students’ lives. The meeting ended with students, the community center’s youth director, college student volunteers and members of a university-based research team bumping elbows and telling one another to stay healthy.
At a time of physical distancing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday practices of The Youth Voices Project, like many other community-based educational programs across the USA and around the world, came to an abrupt halt. The community center where meetings took place could no longer allow groups to use its space and university regulations prevented college student volunteers and the university-based research team from facilitating programming and engaging in-person research activities. Yet, the youth voices project was developed as a culturally relevant and sustaining educational program (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2014; Paris and Alim, 2014, 2017) seeking to elevate the voices of youth traditionally marginalized by society. Ending the project abruptly and severing the relational ties between and among youth participants and the adults supporting their work, would directly contradict the very principles from which the initiative was built.
This study examines what happened after the COVID-19 global pandemic unexpectedly interrupted the collaborative community-based YPAR initiative. The authors draw from theories of culturally responsive-sustaining education (CR-SE) (NYSED, 2018) that extend from theories of culturally relevant and sustaining education (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2014; Paris and Alim, 2014, 2017) and educational research about YPAR and student voice (Author, 2018; Cammarota and Fine, 2008; Caraballo et al., 2017; Cook-Sather, 2002; Cook-Sather, 2006) to analyze data collected in an on-going ethnography of The Youth Voices Project as the COVD-19 pandemic unfolded. The authors make visible the challenges and opportunities that emerged as youth shifted their efforts from examining broader issues of equity in their subsidized housing community to generate immediate support for their community as the world around them rapidly changed. The following research question guided this inquiry: How, if at all, does a community-based YPAR initiative with high school students reflect a culturally relevant-sustaining educational environment after the physical distancing instituted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted students’ work? Findings from this study provide urgently needed insights for educators and educational researchers grappling with how they may enact culturally responsive and sustaining education and research during the COVID-19 global pandemic and beyond.
This study is informed by theories of culturally relevant and sustaining education, critical literacies and student voice. Taken together, these theories informed the design and implementation of The Youth Voices Project and data analysis undertaken in this study.
Culturally responsive-sustaining education
At a time when educational disparities continue to disproportionately affect students of color and those from low-socioeconomic status communities, CR-SE (NYSED, 2018) provides a promising approach for building from the cultures of traditionally marginalized students as strengths in teaching and learning. Such an approach extends from theories of culturally relevant (Ladson-Billings, 1995) and culturally sustaining pedagogies (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2014; Paris and Alim, 2014, 2017). Culturally relevant education builds with students’ cultures as strengths in teaching and learning. Culturally relevant educators enact an ethic of care as they engage tenets of academic achievement, cultural competence and socio-political consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Culturally sustaining pedagogies extend theories of culturally relevant education to call for pluralistic outcomes in education that foster “linguistic and cultural flexibility” (Paris and Alim, 2014, p. 95). Central to developing such learning environments are educators’ understandings of youth cultures, including “the ways young people are enacting race, ethnicity, language, literacy and cultural practices in both traditional and evolving ways” (p. 90).
To support educators in taking up this work, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) brought together an “expert committee” of 10 educational researchers, including Ladson-Billings and Paris (NYSED, 2018, p. 4). Together, the group conceptualized a definition for CR-SE and provided the theoretical framework used to develop a set of guidelines designed to:
[…] help educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepare students for rigor and independent learning, develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and empower students as agents of social change (p. 64).
Although developed for use by educators in New York State, the guidelines offer insights that may support educators seeking to enact CR-SE approaches across multiple contexts of schools and communities.
Youth participatory action research and student voice
YPAR builds from theories of critical literacy to center student voice in policy-making about issues connected to young people’s lives, including their experiences across contexts of schools and communities (Author, 2018; Cammarota and Fine, 2008; Caraballo et al., 2017; Cook-Sather, 2002; Cook-Sather, 2006). Traditionally, education research and practice have positioned students as passive vessels to be filled with knowledge – a perspective critiqued by Dewey (1902) and Freire (1970). Elevating student voice entails taking young people seriously and treating them as knowledgeable contributors to conversations about their experiences in schools and society more broadly (Cook-Sather, 2002; Author, 2018). The term “voice” suggests not only youth presence and participation but also the power to influence outcomes (Cook-Sather, 2006).
Caraballo et al. (2017) trace YPAR’s roots to Freire’s (1970) critical education pedagogy. According to Au (2007), this pedagogy is grounded in the philosophical concept of dialectical materialism, which emphasizes that humans can become actively conscious of the conditions of social inequality and also change these conditions through intervention. Hence, elevating student voice in YPAR can be seen as an action-oriented commitment to transformational resistance (Cammarota and Fine, 2008) that requires reconfiguring power dynamics around who is regarded as having knowledge and the capacity to act (Cook-Sather, 2002). Youth can deploy student voice by conducting research and analyzing, writing up and presenting findings about their work (Oldfather et al., 1999). Doing so provides opportunities for students to develop socio-critical literacy skills (Caraballo et al., 2017; Gutiérrez, 2008) and learn to use and claim space in their efforts toward social change (Rodriguez, 2017).
Modes of inquiry
Data examined in this study is drawn from a broader on-going ethnography of The youth voices project, a community-based YPAR initiative. The initiative started in September of 2019 after a series of meetings between Author 1, a white woman who is a faculty member in a college of education at a research university in the USA Midwest and Author 5, an African American woman who is the youth director at Pondside Homes, a subsidized housing community three miles from the university (all names, including those of places, are pseudonyms). Author 1 approached Author 5 during the spring of 2019 to discuss possibilities for developing and researching literacy programming that addressed educational disparities experienced by youth of Color and/or those experiencing limited socioeconomic opportunities. Together, Authors 1 and 5 discussed possibilities for collaborating to support students participating in the Achievers Program, a college readiness and access program offered to high school students at Pondside. After several meetings, they decided to engage students in a YPAR initiative, The Youth Voices Project, throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and beyond.
At the time of data collection, Pondside Houses was home to 436 residents living in 135 apartment and townhome units. Approximately 40% of residents were under the age of 18, 5% were older than 65 and the remaining 55% were between the ages of 19 and 64. While Pondside does not collect data about residents’ racial identities, children and adults who are Black, Latinx and white live at Pondside, as do refugees from countries in the Middle East. Individual annual incomes were less than $10,000 for more than 95% of residents. Annual household income for families was less than $10,000 for 85% of residents, with fewer than 1% of residents reporting a household income of $31,000 or more. A community center on the property provides programming and resources for all residents, including an after-school program, a college preparatory program, a community garden, a computer learning center and weekly food distribution. The center’s mission is to provide educational, social, recreational and leadership opportunities to improve the quality of life for residents and the community.
Five youth participants regularly participated in weekly 2-h-long meetings of the youth voices project on wednesday evenings at the Pondside community center (Table 1 for participant demographics). Three participants, including one pair of siblings, lived with their families in homes at Pondside. Two participants were siblings who lived at Pondside for 12 years before moving to a neighboring community in 2014. They continued to participate in programming at Pondside.
Author 1 designed the youth voices project in conversation with Author 5, who has served as Youth Director at Pondside Houses for the past two years and was familiar with students, their families and the opportunities and challenges typically encountered by residents in the community. The Project met from 6-8 pm on Wednesday evenings for 13 weeks during the Fall 2019 semester. While most sessions were held in the large meeting space at the Pondside houses community center, two sessions were held at the university campus, in the College of Education. In addition, to Authors 1 and 5, Author 4, a white female pre-service English teacher and undergraduate senior who was interested in learning with students in out-of-school contexts, attended each session and assisted in facilitating the sessions and collecting research data, including audio recordings, photographs and observation notes. Author 6, a Multiracial woman and undergraduate senior at the university served as the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at Pondside houses. She attended the weekly meetings and provided support to youth participants as they engaged in-session activities. A small group of undergraduate student volunteers also attended the weekly meetings and supported youth participants’ activities during the sessions.
In an effort to develop relationships between and among contributors and to learn about students’ cultures and experiences, each session started with all youth participants and adult collaborators sitting around a large table eating a meal prepared by Authors 5 and 6. While eating, everyone took turns sharing a “rant,” something frustrating that happened, as our previous meeting and a “rave,” something great that happened, as our previous meeting. After a few weeks of this practice, youth participants referred to the meal as “family dinner.” Session activities then involved students learning about YPAR and qualitative research methods, piloting research methods such as individual interviews and photovoice projects and examining assets and issues they encountered at Pondside. Youth participants then developed research questions they were interested in examining that built from the strengths of the community to address the issues they encountered. Next, they formed two research teams. Alex and Jasmine focused their work on increasing safety for children and teenagers living at Pondside. Andrea, David and Jake examined how children and teenagers living at Pondside experienced access to participation in organized sports. Across the fall semester, the students collected and analyzed data related to their research questions. They presented findings of their research in late December during a public event at the Pondside community center and made recommendations for addressing the issues they examined in their research.
During the Spring 2020 semester, two doctoral students from the college of education, Author 2, a Filipino-American male and Author 3, a South Korean woman, began attending the weekly sessions to support data collection efforts for the on-going ethnography and assist in session planning and facilitation. The authors and college student volunteers supported the youth researchers in beginning to enact the recommendations they proposed during the public event in December. For example, youth met with a representative from a local sustainable energy company to discuss possibilities for increasing lighting in the public areas of the property to increase residents’ safety. Another week, they met with the owner of a local public relations firm to talk about strategies for raising money to pay for lighting and to renovate the old outdoor basketball court next to the community center. The youth also prepared to make poster presentations sharing their research findings at a youth research symposium to be held in late-March at a college campus in a neighboring state.
Data for this inquiry were taken from the broader on-going ethnography of youth’s participation in The Youth Voices Project. Data analyzed for this paper included: an audio recording and observation notes from the final in-person session of The Youth Voices Project; recordings from four Zoom sessions of The Youth Voices Project after physical distancing requirements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person meetings from taking place; and 131 text messages shared to GroupMe, an online messaging app used by youth participants and adults involved in the Youth Voices Project from March 16-April 12, 2020.
In considering opportunities and challenges that emerged in The Youth Voices Project as a result of the physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors used guidelines from the CR-SE framework (NYSED, 2019) as an analytic tool in examining data. The authors reviewed audio and Zoom recordings of five sessions of The Youth Voices Project (3/11, 3/25, 4/1, 4/8 and 4/15/2020), observation notes from each of the four sessions, text messages exchanged between Authors 1 and 5, and GroupMe chat messages exchanged between the authors and youth participants written between 3/16 and 4/12/2020. Throughout this process, the authors examined how learning experiences youth participants reflected elements of the CR-SE framework (NYSED, 2018). Specifically, the authors examined the data for moments that aligned with the CR-SE framework’s goal to support educators in:
[…] creat[ing] student-centered learning environments that affirm cultural identities; foster positive academic outcomes; develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; empower students as agents of social change; and contribute to individual student engagement, learning, growth, and achievement through the cultivation of critical thinking (p. 7).
While listening to and viewing audio and video recordings of five sessions of The Youth Voices Project, the authors wrote reflective analytic memos as they identified moments in the data when the statements of youth participants and/or the authors aligned with one or more of the goals of the CR-SE framework.
As ongoing data analysis, the authors further considered themes related to challenges and opportunities that emerged in meeting The Youth Voices Project’s goal of challenging educational disparities while building from students’ experiences and elevating student voice. In providing specific examples from students’ participation in The Youth Voices Project after physical distancing regulations interrupted their work, the authors share findings that provide insights for educators and educational researchers seeking to understand possibilities for enacting culturally responsive and sustaining education and research during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Three distinct findings emerged in the authors’ analysis of whether the project reflected a culturally relevant-sustaining educational environment for students after the physical distancing necessitated by COVID-19 interrupted students’ work. They are “staying connected,” “centering community,” and “looking ahead.”
Finding 1: staying connected
When youth participants and the authors walked out of the Pondside houses community center after the March 11th meeting of the youth voices project, it was not yet apparent that they would be prevented from meeting in person for several weeks, if not longer. By the following night, the state’s governor announced schools would be closed beginning March 16 and by the end of the week it became clear that university regulations related to COVID-19 meant the the youth voices project could not continue in person. Yet, bringing the project to an abrupt stop contradicted the authors’ interest in developing a culturally relevant and sustaining learning environment for youth participants. In addition, the authors were concerned about whether residents at Pondside, including student participants, would have access to the resources they needed as the impact of the pandemic began to become clearer. The first day schools were closed, Author 1 texted Author 5:
Author 1: Hey [Author 5]! How are you all doing with resources? [A local school board member] set up a Facebook Group and google doc for [local] folks to connect and share resources. Have you seen it? If not I can Facebook friend you and invite you to the group.
Author 5: Hey, we are doing good but we are trying to figure out what’s next too! And yes I would love to share the resources on the Facebook page.
Author 1: Great! I will share it with you. They raised more than $7,000 this weekend to distribute to families so seems like they can be a big help.
Author 1: Also, I know you are busy but maybe we can set up a group me with the Achievers?
Author 1: Sent you a friend request. Once you approve I will add you to the group.
Author 5: Okay thanks and wow that is amazing!
Author 5: Yeah I’ll try, I (do not) know if all the kids have working phones but I will let you know
Author 1: Sounds good! If there is anything I can do to be in support just let me know
A few hours later, Author 5 set up the GroupMe chat and before long students and the authors were sending messages. Author 1 shared a “rant” and a “rave” to the group chat and over the next few days, youth participants and authors continued to share “rants” and “raves.” Jake wrote: “hey my rave is that their is not any school and my rant is that I’m bored at home.” Alex responded: “My rant is my mom is forcing me to do schoolwork my rave is that I can do whatever after today.” Jasmine wrote: “Hey guys! I really enjoy hearing from everyone Rant: The boys [my brothers] are driving me insane Rave: the college board finally announced that the AP exam will be online.” After Author 2, a doctoral student, noted as a rant: “I cannot find motivation for these online classes (3 h on zoom is too much)…” Author 1 asked the group whether they would want to participate in an online meeting using the videoconferencing software Zoom during their regular Wednesday night meeting time. Jasmine responded: “That’s a great idea but not for 3 h.” Author 1 replied: “Haha. Definitely not 3 h!” Author 1 shared a Zoom link to the GroupMe chat and the first online session of the youth voices project took place March 25th.
The initial text messages between Authors 1 and 5 and the GroupMe chat emerged as culturally responsive-sustaining practices that supported youth participants and authors in staying connected, even as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold around them. Although the youth voices project was interrupted, the relationships youth and adults developed in the months before the pandemic occurred provided a foundation for continuing their interactions with one another during physical distancing. For example, Author 5’s long-established relationships with students and their families supported her in contacting youth participants via cell phone to invite them to join the GroupMe chat. In addition, to reflecting the CR-SE components of a “welcoming and affirming environment” where educators have “close relationships with students” (NYSED, 2018, p. 12), the relationships between educational researchers and community-based educators were also important to this work. The collaborative relationship Authors 1 and 5 established over the course of their work together, for example, supported them in staying connected via text messaging once in-person meetings of the youth voices project were interrupted.
Moreover, authors sought students’ input in determining whether they were interested in staying connected and how they might do so, rather than require students to participate in the GroupMe chat and meet online via Zoom. Such an approach is reflective of efforts to elevate student voice by positioning youth as contributors of knowledge who are able to influence outcomes (Cook-Sather, 2006). The group chat also supported authors and youth in demonstrating an ethic of care toward students and one another, an important component of culturally relevant educational approaches (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Through messages in the GroupMe chat, the authors continued to deepen their understanding of youth participants even as they themselves grappled with the effects of the pandemic across their professional and personal lives. The GroupMe chat and Zoom meetings continued as the physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic stretched on, providing consistent opportunities for youth and the authors to stay connected.
Finding 2: centering community
Moving the Wednesday night meetings of the youth voices project online was not the only change that resulted from physical distancing necessitated by COVID-19. The focus of the group’s work changed as well. During the first online meeting (3/25/2020), the group participated in an extended round of “rants” and “raves” before the authors asked whether youth wanted to continue with their existing YPAR projects or turn their attention to something else:
Author 1: Even though we had those projects we were working on, is there anything else that you think we could be doing together now that’s maybe even a little bit different that would be helpful to you or that you think…
Alex: (Interrupting) I do not, I think one of the hardest things for us was getting money and now it is almost physically impossible to get money because you know everything is shutting down because of Corona and you cannot even go anywhere because I think it was the state or something said you have to stay in your house or something. You do not have to, but it is super highly advised to stay in your house.
Author 5: Well, places are shut down, you know and that means you can go online and look at you know what’s available and the good thing, I mean, Corona, the good thing about Corona is that there are a lot of people looking to help and you know there are a lot of new resources becoming available and there are a lot more even just government funding available, so there’s some things that we can look into.
Jasmine: I feel like can we do a GoFundMe?
Jasmine’s suggestion led the group to discuss possibilities for raising money to support the Pondside community throughout the pandemic crisis. The students and authors came up with different ideas such as capitalizing on existing donation channels and providing equipment to the community. Logistical challenges, including questions about whether and how essential supplies could be safely donated without exposing community members to unnecessary health risks, were also discussed. Ultimately, the students proposed creating a flyer and GoFundMe page requesting money and supplies for residents at Pondside. The next day, Jasmine posted a photo of a flyer she made to the GroupMe chat and Author 5 shared a link to a GoFundMe page she made.
The following day, on March 27, Authors 5 and 1 posted the flyer and GoFundMe page to their personal Facebook pages and the owner of the local public relations company who participated in the final in-person session of the youth voices project shared the post to the local community Facebook group Author 1 previously mentioned in her text to Author 5. Within four days of sharing the post, the GoFundMe achieved its $5,000 goal and multiple donations of food, personal care items, games and cleaning supplies were dropped off to the Pondside community center.
During the group’s next Zoom meeting (4/1/2020), Jasmine shared the news with the rest of the group:
Jasmine: We raised $5,000 for Pondside houses.
Andrea: Wait, $5000?
Author 5: (Laughs) In four days.
Jasmine: We got other donations (too), yeah.
Andrea: Dang! Wait, $5000, like, five, zero, zero, zero?
Andrea was not the only participant surprised by the amount of money raised through the GoFundMe site. As the students tried to figure out who made the donations, Author 5 shared that most came from people who had not previously supported Pondside houses.
In sharing the idea for the GoFundMe site and making the flyer, youth participants drew from their cultural experiences as current and former residents of Pondside Houses. Alex, for example, shared that “getting money” was challenging for residents at Pondside even before COVID-19. His comment demonstrated a sociopolitical consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 1995) that pointed to persistent social inequities that informed residents’ experiences. In further noting, “now it is almost physically impossible to get money because you know everything is shutting down because of Corona…” Alex drew the group’s attention to an urgent problem being encountered in his community. Jasmine’s suggestion to “do a GoFundMe” further centered community in considerations of future activities the group could take up. Authors engaged the culturally responsive-sustaining practices of “elevating historically marginalized voices” (NYSED, 2018, p. 12) by sharing the flyer and GoFundMe page among their social networks. The positive public response to the youth’s efforts facilitated their understanding that they could benefit their community as agents of social change, reflecting goals of culturally relevant-sustaining education (NYSED, 2018) and student voice (Cammarota and Fine, 2008).
Authors further enacted the culturally responsive-sustaining educational practices of incorporating “current events” into instruction and positioning youth participants as “co-designers of the curriculum” (NYSED, 2018, p. 12) by asking the youth whether they wanted to continue with the YPAR projects they were working on or adjust their plans in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This practice continued into later online meetings of the youth voices project, as authors sought to remain responsive to students’ experiences and perspectives as strengths in facilitating future sessions.
Finding 3: looking ahead
Even as youth participants celebrated their quick success in generating resources for residents of Pondside houses, the group’s future endeavors remained uncertain. The authors wanted to continue centering students’ experiences and perspectives in their work and the youth continued to have reservations about moving forward with their YPAR projects as it would be difficult during the pandemic to enact the actions they sought: adding lighting to the public spaces at Pondside houses and improving the old basketball court next to the Pondside community center. Furthermore, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unclear whether, when and how students’ work on their YPAR projects could continue. Yet, the students said they wanted to keep meeting with the authors via Zoom during their regularly scheduled time. This left the authors grappling with the challenge of finding innovative ways to support students’ participation in the youth voices project while continuing to meet the project’s goals of challenging inequities while building from students’ strengths.
During the group’s first two Zoom meetings, the students shared that they were spending a lot of time watching movies and television shows while home as a result of physical distancing requirements. After students and the authors shared some of the shows and movies they recently watched as part of the group’s second Zoom meeting, students expressed interest in watching social justice-related television shows, movies and documentaries on their own before coming back the following week to share what they watched with the whole group. During the group’s third Zoom meeting, held April 8, authors and students collectively used Google Docs to compose a “watch list” that included a short summary of what was watched, a viewer rating and recommendations for additional media about a similar topic or genre. The practice provided an opportunity for the group to “connect across lines of difference” (NYSED, 2018, p. 7) as both youth and the authors shared their interests in a variety of media. In addition, authors learned new information about students’ interests that could inform their future work together.
At the close of the April 8th meeting, Author 4 suggested youth participants and authors document a new activity they were engaging as a result of the physical distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A few days later, Author 4 shared a photo of herself reading a kindle to the GroupMe chat as an example. However, none of the youth participants shared photos to the GroupMe chat and during the following week’s session several noted they forgot they were supposed to do so. Students and authors instead talked about things they were doing as a result of the pandemic they otherwise would not. For example, Jasmine grabbed a framed bulletin board, showing the group how she was adding photos of her family and friends she would hang in her dorm room next fall.
In an attempt to further inform the group’s future work, the authors included time in the April 15th meeting to move to “breakout rooms” in Zoom and talk with youth in smaller groups about the direction the youth wanted their work to go in the coming weeks. Andrea and David talked with Authors 4 and 6, Alex talked with Authors 2 and 5, and Jake and Jasmine talked with Authors 1 and 3.
Throughout the conversations, students were eager to discuss how they were coping with the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order and were enthusiastic about discussing social media apps they used to stay in touch with their friends. In discussing future activities for the Wednesday evening sessions, multiple ideas emerged, providing opportunities for youth and authors to develop collaborative understandings of students’ interests. The discussion between Andrea, David, Author 4 and Author 6 provides an example:
Andrea: Well, I like music, so something dealing with music.
Author 4: Okay, would songwriting be a thing?
Andrea: No, not songwriting.
Author 4: Okay, so not writing.
Andrea: Yeah, like making the sound […] basically, like making a beat, you know?
Author 4: Yeah, yeah I feel that. How about you, David?
David: I do not know, I’m not really good at drawing, I am not gonna lie, so I do not know…
Author 4: […] Is there anything that you think you would be interested in doing with us that we did not mention?
David: (pause) Hmm […] I mean, I kinda do like the thought of like music, making beats.
When the three groups came back together a few minutes later Andrea shared beatmaking as an idea for future work. Authors noted there was a local hiphop artists’ collective that often did work with community groups and they could look into possibilities for partnering with them during a future session. In the meantime, the group collectively agreed they would each share a link to a favorite song they enjoyed to the GroupMe chat before their next meeting. The following meeting, they would talk about why they chose their song and compose a Google Doc playlist noting their choices and rationale.
While not beatmaking, the activity emerged in the Zoom meeting as something each youth noted an interest in completing. Moreover, the activity continued the culturally responsive-sustaining move of positioning students as knowledge generators and “co-designers of curriculum,” while “affirm[ing] their cultural identities” (NYSED, 2018, p. 12). In addition, listening to and talking about the songs youth chose could further support the authors’ understandings of students’ interests and perspectives as they grappled with decisions about how to best support students’ engagement in The Youth Voices Project during an on-going time of uncertainty.
Conclusion and implications
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of but also challenges inherent in seeking to enact CR-SE practices with youth. The Youth Voices Project is one example that reformers (e.g. community workers, educators, researchers) can refer to when seeking to sustain and nurture relationships with youth during a time of crisis. During the past several weeks, we have observed the power of maintaining already established traditions (e.g. rants and raves) and creating new traditions (e.g. creating a movie watch list) toward building and sustaining community. By elevating student voice in culturally responsive and sustaining ways, authors created space for students to think deeply about their communities and bring various locally-based, sociopolitical issues to light. Authors found the students to be more engaged and responsive when they were able to guide the conversation and shape the direction of the weekly meetings and activities. Lastly, we were surprised by the speed at which students reacted to the impact of the pandemic on the Pondside community. The students quickly pivoted their ongoing research projects toward projects with more immediate relevance to the pandemic crisis (e.g. building new challenges for donations). Their success so far in raising money and supplies for Pondside reveals the promise and possibility inherent in youth digital literacies and demonstrates how the students have long been attentive to the needs of their community. The COVID-19 crisis brings to the forefront what multicultural educators have already known for a long time – that there is an urgent and ongoing need for individuals and institutions to attend to youth’s heritage and evolving community practices. Even when the crisis has ended, this urgency will remain.
|Namea||Genderb||Race/ethnicityc||Grade level||Years living at Pondside apartments|
|Andrea||F||African American||11||16 years|
|Jasmine||F||Lebanese American||12||12 years|
|David||M||African American||12||17 years|
Andrea and David are siblings; Jasmine and Jake are siblings, aall names are pseudonyms, bself-designated and cself-designated
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About the authors
Dr Joanne E. Marciano is an Assistant Professor of English Education in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Her research engages qualitative participatory methodologies to examine opportunities for supporting youth’s literacy learning across contexts of secondary English education, urban education, teacher education and college readiness. She is co-author with Dr Michelle Knight-Manuel of the books classroom cultures: equitable schooling for racially diverse youth and college ready: preparing black and latina/o youth for higher education – A culturally relevant approach. Joanne’s research agenda is informed by her experiences teaching secondary English for 13 years in a NYC public high school.
Lee Melvin Peralta is a Filipino-American male and a doctoral student in curriculum, instruction and teacher education. He taught middle school mathematics in New York City for six years and is interested in data activism, participatory research and exploring the intersection between mathematics, social justice and the arts.
Ji Soo Lee is a South Korean female doctoral student in the department of teacher education at Michigan State University. She has worked closely with the feminist activists in South Korea developing a gender-sensitive school sex education framework. Her research interests span both the politics of sexuality and bodies in school and the ontologies of self and the other. She tries to tackle systematic inequality by challenging the notion of self through a meditative inquiry. She loves hiking and doing yoga.
Hannah Rosemurgy is a white female pre-service English teacher who is finishing her undergraduate degree before interning in Chicago Public Schools. She has previously worked with historically marginalized elementary school students in a Midwest capital city. She is interested in researching educational inequalities in urban schools and how to create responsive curricula.
Lillian Holloway is the Youth Director of Pondside Houses (a pseudonym). Her focuses on youth in poverty and college access. She has seven years of experience working with youth in underprivileged communities and mentoring. She is also currently a second year Mental Health Graduate student at a private Midwest university.
Justice Bass is a multiracial woman and the AmeriCorp VISTA at Pondside Houses (a pseudonym). She is finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Psychology then heading to work as a mentor in an elementary school. She has previously worked in different settings with underprivileged youth in various states, focusing on education. She plans on working with the USA Senate to help reform the education system.