As the newest member of the Aperture Education team, I was really looking forward to my first client visit when I headed to New York City to attend the Urban Assembly’s SEL Symposium a few weeks ago. Not quite knowing what to expect, I entered the experience with an open mind and a blank notebook. Here’s what I took away:

The day began with opening remarks from some of the Urban Assembly’s leaders and LaShawn Robinson, Deputy Chancellor for School Climate and Wellness from the NYC Department of Education. Robinson focused on a commitment to social and emotional learning as it relates to school safety and restorative practices. She emphasized the need for student voice, specifically when it comes to promoting equitable practices. Staggering statistics indicate that inequities persist, not just in New York City but across the country, and that it is our job as adults to support and encourage every student to succeed to the best of their ability.

Opening remarks were followed by an inspirational keynote address from Jamira Burley, Head of Youth Engagement and Skills at Global Business Coalition to Education. Jamira’s authentic approach was honest and thought-provoking. She challenged listeners to be willing to see past the surface level, moving beyond our own biases to be not just allies but accomplices in building bridges toward equity for every student. At one point she asked a question that stuck with me, “Ask yourself, are you willing to act? If not, you may be the very barrier someone needs to move”. The most important takeaways I brought home with me from Jamira’s keynote were that we need to meet students where they are and be willing to take the time to get to know them as individuals. The more we understand them, their needs, and their behaviors, the more compassionate and equitable we can be toward each of them.

The day continued with breakout sessions centered around SEL – specifically focusing on the important work that the Urban Assembly’s New York City programs are doing to support equity, student voice, and alternative disciplinary measures. Overall, I was very impressed with the thought-provoking and honest conversations that were driven by passionate educational leaders. I left feeling energized, inspired, and motivated to work even harder toward the goal of supporting every child’s social and emotional development.