Participatory Budgeting: Stuyvesant Receives $2000 from DOE

“I hope that they see that they can actually have an impact on their community, because, after all, in a government class, we want people to feel that participation makes a difference.” —Ellen Siegel, social studies teacher

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The NYC Department of Education (DOE) has recently kickstarted a Civics For All: Participatory Budgeting project. According to the 2019-2020 Civics For All guidebook, participating schools, including Stuyvesant, will receive “$2,000 to fund a project proposed, researched, and promoted by students that will improve the students’ quality of life at school.”

After Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer Suri received an e-mail asking if there were any teachers interested in participating in the program, social studies teacher Ellen Siegel applied. She received the grant on behalf of Stuyvesant, and her two sections of Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government Integrated with Economics began working on various project proposals. “I thought it was an interesting idea [...] [and that] it would be a really great way to engage students in the political process,” Siegel said.

Senior Jackie Lin agrees with this sentiment. Lin believes that the implementation of participatory budgeting in schools is a “fantastic idea” that allows students to voice their opinions and become more involved within the school community. “Students definitely have their own ideas as to how the school can be improved, and this [is] a perfect outlet for that,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Junior Alp Doymaz also found the application of participatory budgeting to be empowering, as it gives students direct control of their own affairs. “A program like this will help people make [policies] and proposals that more directly satisfy their needs,” he said in an e-mail interview.

He also found that the project gave him new insight on the nuances behind polling and gauging public opinion. “We learned how the order of questions on a poll could have an enormous impact on responses and how to weed out assumptions from our questions to eliminate bias,” Doymaz said.

One challenge students faced while working on the project was finding a balance between their goals for the school and the limited budget. “One thing I [wished] could be expanded was the amount of money we had to work with. A lot of the possible ideas my group brainstormed got shot down mainly because there was no possible way to fund our proposal with the money we were designated, so a larger amount of money would open up more possibilities for budget proposals,” senior Wesley Wong said.

However, students found the project to be a unique learning experience. “I would say that this experience has been very worthwhile,” Lin said. “[It] has given me new appreciation for what the student government does. It has also made me do quite a bit of self-reflection [...] [on what] I want to see implemented in the school.”

Lin also stated that because the project proposals were written in a group setting, she found their final ideas to be substantive. “Working with other students is vital to a project like this,” she said. “Other members can pick out flaws you didn’t catch.”

Doymaz had a similar outlook. He shared that through communicating with his classmates, they were able to touch upon diverse ideas and refine them based on peer review. “I really appreciated being able to work in groups,” he said.

Siegel also organized a Participatory Budgeting fair, held on January 14, with the goal of informing the student body of the various projects the students in her AP U.S. Government class had proposed. These included hand-sanitizer stations, charging stations with locked cabinets, charging stations with password-protected docks, water-filling stations, an extra Cloud printer, and an extra printing station. The projects were approved by the School Leadership Team and were presented on poster boards. Voting to determine which project will be funded will take place on January 17 in the first-floor lobby, as well as through an online voting forum.

Junior Mary Shang attended the fair and found the projects to be insightful. “I think it’s a good idea. [...] It makes a difference and lets us know that our voice[s] [are] being heard,” she said.

Junior Stella Oh agreed. “This was an interesting event at which students could discuss policies that could benefit the student body,” she said. Oh found the fair to be a unique meeting place where students could debate the benefits and drawbacks of each proposal. “There were hot debates!” she said.

“I am really glad that Stuyvesant is taking part in this Participatory Budgeting program because Participatory Budgeting is a great part of community engagement and community participation in determining how to spend money for the community,” Student Union Vice President Julian Giordano said. “By practicing it at Stuyvesant, we not only work to improve the civics of our community, but we are also learning skills that we can apply to being citizens of New York City.”

Siegel is planning on applying again next year. She believes that the project will allow students to develop a greater understanding of the formal budgeting process and, in the long run, make students more comfortable with voting and gain a greater sense of ownership. “After all, in a government class, we want people to feel that participation makes a difference,” she said.