Thanks to the generous support of the Knight Foundation, California Walks was able to send local delegations from San Jose and Long Beach to the PedsCount! 2016 Summit. The funding allowed me to organize a select 10-person, interdisciplinary team of people and organizations I work with here in San Jose. The team was composed of educators, students, citizen advocates, and staff from the city (Departments of Transportation and Planning) and the county (Public Health).
Below you’ll find a personal reflection from Susana García, Vice Principal at Notre Dame High School in downtown San Jose. What strikes me about Susana’s piece—and of the reflections from the other delegation members—is just how powerful the experience was. Not that I’m surprised, just very happy that some of the take-aways from this immersive and experiential Summit will be translated into place-based and participatory learning and action back at home. So please, dive into Susana’s reflection and take a closer look at the PedsCount! 2016 Summit in Long Beach on Storify.
By Susana García, Vice Principal, Notre Dame High School
At Notre Dame High School in San Jose, social justice is in our blood. We read about it. Think about it. Take action on behalf of it. Year after year, commencement addresses from impassioned students talk about our transformative curriculum and its impact on their worldview. Yet, I have to admit that after 16 years at Notre Dame, transportation justice was a new term to me. The concepts were not new ones; this work is always about creating community, equity, and mutual respect in a sustainable way. The exploration of transportation justice that I experienced at the PedsCount! 2016 Summit was inspiring for me as an educator and a citizen.
Here are three personal takeaways from this year’s summit in Long Beach:
When colleagues and friends asked where I was going, I would jokingly respond that it was “a conference about walking.” As a downtown school, with so many cultural resources and wonderful restaurants nearby, walking is something that we do quite a bit of. It didn’t seem too far of a stretch to attend. In fact, earlier in the academic year, civil rights veterans visited our school in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and reminded us that basic things we now take for granted, such as cut-through sidewalks, came from the passage of the ADA. Yes, I had already been thinking about walkability. But, the conference revealed that there is more work to be done.
Safety for our walkers (and bikers – see the powerful work of the Go Human campaign), advocacy within communities that lack pedestrian infrastructure (for example, the work of UCLA researcher Herbie Huff and her work in Cudahy, CA), and contesting discrimination in all forms (a particular thanks to Cultiva La Salud‘s Genoveva Islas for her work and personal stories of triumph) are all initiatives that each citizen should be fighting for in order to make our society better for everyone.
Walkability activates a space and empowers a community to claim that space as their own.
Access for Youth
Thanks to a generous grant from the Knight Foundation–San Jose, I was able to attend the conference with my colleague, Eran DeSilva, as well as two students. The presence of these thoughtful and articulate teens added a layer of insight to my own experience. The importance of the voice of youth was not lost on the conference organizers who included a plenary panel of youth sharing their experiences in their own words. After returning to the Bay Area, and looking at our home with new eyes, I recognize the critical need for an affordable and connected public transportation system. For most of my life, I have had access to a car (more recently upgraded to a plug-in hybrid) and hadn’t given it much thought. Still, I was on board with the public transportation need for environmental reasons; recognizing that our youth inherit the planet from previous generations. I see the issue even more clearly through the lens of transportation justice. For some within our community without access to a car—youth, elders, differently-abled, and low-income workers to name a few—an effective public transportation system provides needed access to jobs, healthcare, and education. I realize that the youth intersect with this movement at many levels. The task ahead is complicated and needs sound transportation policy as well as the informed voice of the youth.
Teens must have a presence in the current transportation justice movement.
My favorite topic from the summit was placemaking, and the strategy of parklets in particular. I love the idea of thinking beyond the obvious limitations of a wall or a sidewalk to create something beautiful and meaningful in a different way. From discussions, to photos, to literally sitting in a parklet as we enjoyed a progressive dinner through downtown Long Beach, I am personally inspired to apply this strategy and this way of thinking to my own personal and professional life. (I want to install parklets around Notre Dame High School and activate the SoFA District to support our small business and museum neighbors!)
As I already mentioned, I attended this conference with two of our students. It is fairly common for teachers to attend conferences in the summer, with other teachers, about teaching. It is not at all common for teachers to attend with their students nor to explore a topic that seemingly has nothing to do with curriculum instruction, classroom management or technology integration. Yet, at the conclusion of the two days, I realized that this experience was teaching my students and me much more about 21st century skills. This is the direction that education must take. Coaching our students through application of knowledge in real settings as well as the soft skills they will need in the future (for example, at a conference, skills like networking and dressing in layers because of air conditioning). Eran and I are looking to launch a new model of professional development that includes shared access to opportunities that better position them, and us, for career and life success.
Think different to be different.