Diverse teachers, better water fountains in schools, top priorities of Syracuse youth council

May 6, 2019

The Syracuse Youth Advisory Council made presentations to the city’s common councilors on two issues they say are important to young people. The topics this year, focused on their education and well-being in city schools.

The first problem, the youth council said, is a lack of minority representation of teachers and other professionals in schools. Brynn Murphy-Stanley, a senior at Nottingham High School, said only seeing white people in positions of power, restricts her and others that look like her, from seeing themselves in those positions.  

“Seeing yourself represented and seeing yourself achieving these high goals and seeing yourself being able to do these things is very important and there is the ability to succeed,” Murphy-Stanley said.

Rashanek Luker, a junior at the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central, said she’s only had one African American teacher and it’s for her African American history class.

“She explains stuff, she goes more in-depth," Luker said. "When we’re talking about slavery, or things of that matter, she expands it all. She gives us a different point of view of it.”

The youth council is pushing for more recruitment programs in the Syracuse City School District to hire more diverse teachers.

The other issue they chose, is the condition of water fountains in the city schools. Eli Mager, a sophomore at Nottingham High School, said from what he’s seen, the main difference between a private school and a city school, are the water fountains. The ones at city schools are the classic porcelain or metal water fountains, he described as dirty and upwards of 50 years old.

Eli Mager of the Syracuse youth council.
Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media

“The private school, they had these stainless steel Elkay drinking fountains, equipped with water bottle fillers, so instead of trying in vain to drink from a water fountain that had no pressure, pretty much forcing you to put your mouth on the spout, these water fountains had sensors and a cooling system and a strong filter,” Mager said. 

Tony Davis, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the school district, said these things are doable on different levels.

“The first one I think is in our new strategic plan," Davis said. "This is actually a goal that we’re working on, to deal with diversity in the district. With the water, I think the fact that we’re talking about being more healthy and really what we have in our buildings right now not being acceptable, I think is just things that we need to do and address in our renovations that are coming.”

Common councilors urged the young people to give their presentations to the Syracuse City School Board of Education, which oversees the district and can address their problems.