Innovative Social Justice Class for More than 140 Local Bronx High School Students Wraps Up

Last autumn, as the country grew closer to Election Day, President Jerome approached a number of local high schools asking if they would be interested in the College presenting a special virtual class to help their students make sense of it all.

The subject was near and dear to him, as he has taught an Intro to Political Science class each fall semester for several years and has made civics education a priority at the College.

Several schools jumped at the chance and gladly hosted the event, which was led by President Jerome.

The special hour-long event was called “Election 2020: A Primer to Help Young Adults Understand the Political Process” and it was a terrific success. The students were highly engaged and keen to understand the role of primaries, the Electoral College, and politics in general.

That lecture gave rise to an idea to expand it into a dual enrollment course, offered at no cost to the students or the NYC DOE.

Working with Michael Blake, later named the College’s inaugural Visiting Social Justice and Civics Fellow, President Jerome approached Superintendent Sabrina Cook and then-Executive Superintendent for the Bronx, Meisha Ross Porter, about offering a winter-long class and inviting any interested junior or senior from Bronx high schools to attend. As the class would be held virtually, it was easy to accommodate many students from multiple schools in one class.

The curriculum for the course, titled “Social Justice, Government, and Civic Engagement: A Dual Enrollment Course for Today’s High School Juniors and Seniors”, was finalized in December, and interested students began registering in January. The innovative course kicked off with the first class in early February. More than 160 students logged on.

Over the next few months, the students met twice a week for one hour in the virtual classroom. President Jerome and Michael Blake led the class. Joy Tolliver joined as a co-instructor when she began working for the College as General Counsel in the spring.

Elected officials and others on the front lines were invited each week as guest speakers. A list of prominent leaders readily agreed to speak with the students, including:

  • NYS Speaker of the House, Carl Heastie, who spoke on housing costs and running the state government 
  • State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who spoke on healthcare
  • NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who spoke on the role of his office in advocating for the people
  • District Attorney Darcel Clark, who spoke on restorative justice
  • Civil rights attorney Joey Jackson, who spoke on the George Floyd murder trial
  • Former Manhattan Deputy Borough President Rose Pierre Louis, who spoke on ranked-choice voting
  • Brooklyn Assistant DA Queenie Paniagua, who spoke on the criminal justice system
  • Texas State Senator Cesar Blanco, who spoke on the role of deregulation on the state’s winter storm crisis

President Jerome and his co-instructors worked hard to ensure the virtual classroom was a safe, supportive space to talk about social justice and inequity, helping students to share opinions and vocalize what they were feeling about the difficult, senseless acts of racial violence happening across the country.

As the school year came to an end, so too did the social justice course. More than 140 students from 31 Bronx high schools – and one in Staten Island – successfully completed the course, earning three college credits from Monroe that they can take with them to the college of their choosing.

It was a tremendous experience for everyone at Monroe – and for the students who participated. Among some of the comments shared in a final paper:

  • "A major aspect of the class that I liked was that the students were encouraged to speak up and defend their opinion. I have taken four college courses this year, and in most of them, it was the professor speaking the entire time, then giving an assignment. It was never us stating our opinion …"
  • "The class definitely has impacted me by teaching me things I never learned in school before. Taking this class definitely has taught me things about government and politics in a major way…"
  • "This class has impacted me greatly, I am more open minded about what is around me and eager to know more about what is happening around me. I am now more aware of how to handle a conversation maturely and am better able to comprehend people. I've also learned to act rather than talk since actions speak louder than words…"
  • "This political class was the most amazing class I took all semester…"

We look forward to offering the program again in the new school year. Until then, enjoy your summer, local high schoolers!