Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rochester students say school safety starts with trust

4 students sitting at a table with microphones
Noelle E. C. Evans
From left to right: students Briellle Sykes, Ayonnie Johnson, Estralita Bogar, and Aniyah Battiste

Whatever the approach will be going forward for school safety, Rochester high school students say their perspectives are critical to getting it right.

Nine students from Northeast College Preparatory High School joined Rochester City School District leaders and local law enforcement officials at the Newborn Fellowship Church on North Clinton Ave.

“Everywhere I go it’s a fight,” Brielle Sykes, 17, said. “How can I focus? How can I do my work? How can I have a relationship with my teacher without worrying about who’s going to fight next? Do I need to move? Or what’s going to happen next?”

Students said there’s often a threat of some kind every day at school, and sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.

“You got to watch your back too because even some your friends, too, be trying to set you up, trying to get you killed, and then you got to watch when you go outside to the bus loop because people will come to try to fight,” said student Aniyah Battiste.

Student Estralita Bogar spoke briefly about her older brother, Lysaun Curry, who was shot and killed on October 6, 2020, shortly after graduating. He was 18 years old.

Battiste said schools need to address violence and trauma.

“We need to learn about mental health. We need to learn how about how we’re going to survive in the streets,” Battiste said. “We need to learn how we going to get through our lives being successful. How you going to get kids off the street that been on streets for so long?”

All the students said they wanted more security personnel in school, but not police officers. Another layer of security would be stronger relationships with teachers and staff they can trust, they said.

Last week, six teachers at School 17 were put on leave after demeaning and racist text messages about students were intercepted. Sykes said she wasn’t shocked when she heard about it.

“Things like this have been going on, it just finally got recognized,” Sykes said. “How can I feel safe with you if you’re talking down on me? How can I hold you accountable for education when you belittle me behind my back?”

Rebecca Hetherington, a member of the district’s Parent Leadership Advisory Council, said more needs to be done for the students by the adults in the room.

“None of these kids should ever feel the way they feel right now. They should never feel like they have to testify to these stories. Every single one of these kids needs to be in a classroom learning because that’s what school is for,” Hetherington said. “Every single teacher across this district, every administrator, every person who works here needs conflict negotiation skills.”

The discussion was hosted by the city school district’s Each One Reach One initiative to create better opportunities for students.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
Related Content