About the research team

Allies in Education: Building Coalitions for Youth-Driven Research and Advocacy foregrounds the research, work, and activism of youth leaders in New York City as they develop policy platforms for just, equitable, and integrated public schools.

The team’s various initiatives stem from the following questions: What do young people find most urgently in need of reform in public education? How do they understand these issues? What do they imagine can change? And how can collaborations with adult allies support this vision?

At each step, the aim of these initiatives is to strengthen collaboration across various youth organizations, in support of racial justice and desegregation in New York City public schools.
The research team’s faculty coleaders are Debbie Sonu, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College and doctoral faculty in the Urban Education Program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and Terrie Epstein, Professor of Education at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

As teacher educators, Dr. Sonu and Dr. Epstein believe that dialogue across the generations is critical to advancing genuine school reforms. In their work, they hope new cohorts of public school teachers will carry forward the visions of young people and support meaningful social change in their classrooms.

More info

In 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Project reported New York City as one of the most egregiously segregated school systems in the country, with 1.1 million students attending schools divided along lines of race and class. The individuals most knowledgeable about the impact of separate but unequal are the students themselves. As such, this research team works with various youth organizations that research, legislate, and promote the democratic ideal of public school through the use of testimony, performance, and activism. Each of the group’s projects recognizes young people as experts in their own education and puts their experiences and research findings in conversation with that of adult scholars in the field.

What we do

+  Build coalitions across youth organizations in NYC advocating for racial and social justice in schools as part of a movement toward equitable education for all

+  Organize public events, including The Future of Public Education: Searching for The Public Good Amid Gentrification, Privatization, and Inequality. This event paired the research findings of The Public Good--a team of doctoral students from Teachers College who, under the leadership of AERA President-elect Dr. Amy Stuart Wells, examine issues related to gentrification—with a performance by Epic Next Theater Ensemble, a group of NYC high school students who researched, wrote, and directed  a powerful full-length theater piece entitled Laundry City about community responses to segregation and gentrification.

+  Collaborate with IntegrateNYC to produce, support, and launch a youth-driven visual storytelling campaign that fights for just and equitable public schools for all.

+  Partner two of IntegrateNYC’s young artivists with two experienced artists to produce images and art that communicate their message across wide audiences, in preparation of the Brown versus Board of Education Week of Action in May 2018

+  Ensure the inclusion of student voices this year’s annual meetings of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and The American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies (AAACS) in New York City

+  Provide support for Epic Next Theater Ensemble to perform their latest piece at the conference’s presidential session.

+  Plan an “Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S)” in New York City that will articulate youth-led vision for the future of public schools.

+  Introduce youth leaders from across the city to CUNY, the largest public university in the country, helping high school students to imagine themselves carving out educational and leadership opportunities at CUNY, including those who want to enter teaching professions / attend CUNY colleges.


Faculty Coleaders