NYC Special Needs Voucher Program is Not Enough by Liz Pitofsky

This is the part two of a series on students with special needs by Guest Blogger and SLP Intern Juliana Castro. 

According to a recent article on Chalkbeat (an incredible resource for education-related news), NYC families face a Herculean task when trying to arrange critical support for children with special needs.  The City is home to thousands of young students with special needs and many families rely on government support to find and afford help such as physical therapy, medical services, and counseling for their children. When the Department of Education (DOE) is unable to provide sufficient in-school services, parents are given a voucher to pay outside providers.  Just finding these providers, however, proves to be a very daunting task.  During the 2015-16 school year, families redeemed only half of the vouchers issued.  During the same year, just 59% of students with special needs received needed services, while thousands received none at all.   Families struggle to find providers in their neighborhoods and have difficulty arranging (and getting reimbursed for) transportation.  Many providers are simply difficult to reach.  

Chalkbeat interviewed Maggie Moroff, a disability policy expert at Advocates for Children, who called these findings from the NYC Public Advocate's office, "not surprising."  Services for students with disabilities, she added, are as "crucial as general academic instruction."  She explained, “It’s all the other things that go into a student’s ability to process and learn and develop in school.  Without any of them, you’re denying a student a really important piece of their education.”


Increasing Accessibility in the Classroom: NYC Schools  by Liz Pitofsky

This is the first post from SLP’s guest blogger and Summer Intern, Juliana Castro.  Juliana is a junior at Wesleyan University.   

A few years ago, 6th graders in SLP's Residency Program tackled the issue of accessibility in NYC, specifically with regard to transportation.  But, too often, public schools themselves are not accessible. 

What would it be like to not be able to physically enter a classroom space, the library, the gym, or to be unable to even enter the main door into school? School is a period of time for children and teens to explore, grow, and learn but children with physical disabilities find it increasingly hard to attend school in the city.  Every day, they say, they are reminded that they have a disability and that they cannot experience school in the same way as their peers.  According to WNYC, only 17% of New York City schools are fully accessible and comply with federal regulations, making it hard for young students like Aron Phillips with cerebral palsy to learn in the classroom. He says he often feels isolated within the narrow halls of his school and that other students are not mindful of him. Because of the unreliable and inefficient bus transportation system his school provides, Aron has missed weeks of school throughout the year. Eighht grader Emma Albert uses a wheelchair and has never been able to enter school through the front door; instead, she uses the side entrance every morning.

Judging by personal accounts of students with physical disabilities, NYC schools have a long way to go before students with disabilities are fully able to participate in school life.


Advocacy Award for SLP Students by Liz Pitofsky

We were thrilled to attend Care for the Homeless' annual Summer Solstice event and accept an advocacy award on behalf of SLP students!

Care for the Homeless (CFH) is a long-standing SLP partner.   We have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to help advance their critical mission: providing free medical care and advocacy for NYC homeless.  Three SLP groups have partnered with CFH: Third and fourth graders in Fort Green, concerned about the impact on children of living in temporary shelters, organized a campaign to advocate for more supportive housing.  You can view their PSA here.   Two classes of third graders in Brownsville organized a petition drive to support CFH's request to the NYC City Council for funding to support their Peer-to-Peer Outreach program.  A request which was granted in late June.  

We look forward to continuing to partner with CFH with future SLP groups that select homelessness as the issue they would like to help solve.  



SLP Spring Fundraiser! by Liz Pitofsky

What a night! Thanks so much to all who came out to celebrate with us at the awesome Shapeshifter Lab  in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Wednesday night! 

In all, we raised more than $17,000 which means that close to 300 students attending school in under-served Brooklyn neighborhoods will have the opportunity to become leaders in their schools and communities. 

So many were so generous! 

Thank you to the incredibly talented artists who donated their work:  Miranda Barnes, Jenny Gage/Tom Betterton, Pamela Hanson, Lionel Koretsky, Anne Joyce, Elaine Mode, Joel Stans, MG VanderElst, Jen Ferguson, and Leslie Oberdorfer. 

Thank you to the awesome musicians who made it such a fun evening: Key Lime Pie, Chris Erikson, and Cliff Westfall...and his Electrified Honkytonk Band!   

Thank you to Blue Balloon School, Joanie Smith (Pilates), and Dumbelle for donating classes to the raffle. 

Thank you to Judith Viorst, the Wythe Hotel, La Vara, Txikito, Cipriani, Cheney Literary, John Ginns, and Vogue for their incredibly generous donations to our auction and raffle.  

Thank you to Rachel, Ashley, Olivia, and Rosa for sharing their SLP experiences. 

And for all of you who purchased tickets and came out to make it such a fun and inspiring evening- we are so grateful for your support! 



Teens in the News... by Liz Pitofsky

We are loving these teens in the news, making their voices heard: 

NYC students are calling for the City to integrate public schools and give students a voice in the process. Last weekend, students from IntegrateNYC4Me, a student-led advocacy group, organized a rally to “call attention to the necessity of including student voices in the creation of the policies that will affect us the most.” 

High school junior Tahseen Chowdhury announced his campaign to unseat New York State Senator Jose Peralta.  Explaining his decision to run, 16 year-old Tahseen said, "People are looking for someone who cares more about the people than the politics."  

New Jersey students on an 8th grade trip to Washington, DC respectfully declined to take a photo with House Speaker Paul Ryan, using the opportunity to protest his support of the Trump administration. 











Taking Up the Baton by Liz Pitofsky

Earlier this week, President Obama visited the University of Chicago and delivered the first public remarks of his post-presidency.  His comments covered a range of topics, including his plans for the next phase of his life. Going forward, he explained, his highest priority is help "prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world."  

Part of his task is to persuade young people that the country's problems, though serious and daunting, "are not insoluble."  Moreover, he added, many young people are very concerned about a wide range of issues but "feel as if their involvement would not make a difference, it's not worth their time...They are discouraged but feel disempowered."    

Our experience working with students of all ages confirms their deep concern about so many issues: poverty, violence, education, civil rights, climate change, and more.  And our evaluation of SLP's impact has shown that, when given a real opportunity to make their voices heard in their schools and neighborhoods, young people are significantly more optimistic about their ability to have an impact: they feel more comfortable sharing their ideas for change, they see themselves as leaders, and they feel a drive and a responsibility to solve social problems.  






When it Comes to Service Learning, Students are Community Partners by Liz Pitofsky


In this week's issue of Education Week, SLP responded to a recent op-ed, "How Can We Make Service Learning Less Self-Serving?"  In the original article, San Francisco teacher Kyle Redford shared her concern that too often service-learning efforts organized with community partners benefit the students but not the partners themselves.  Our Letter to the Editor explains how the SLP model consistently enables students to provide direct and lasting benefits to their community partners.