The YEZ at Banana Kelly: Student Store Opens

By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager

Corresponding from the Bronx, where she manages buildOn’s Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly High School, Stephanie Gilman provides buildOn From The Field with breaking insight and personal reflections on this unprecedented service learning project. To learn more about the YEZ at Banana Kelly click here or search for posts under the “Youth Engagement Zone” category.

Since starting work at Banana Kelly High earlier this year, I’ve been continually impressed by the student body’s readiness to engage in service despite their dramatic lack of resources. Our first service event, Paint 4 Change, attracted over 75% of Banana Kelly’s enrollment. But this is a school without an auditorium. Without a library. Without some very basic things that many other schools have. And because of the issues they face at home, as well as in their under-resourced school and community, many students at Banana Kelly have trouble finding their way to class.

We opened a student store last week to address some of these attendance issues with an opportunity for practical work experience — and to provide the youth at Banana Kelly with a resource that they can manage themselves. (It’s for students, by students.) The store’s hours are every Tuesday and Thursday at lunch, and aside from selling healthy snacks, water, and basic supplies, we encourage it as a socializing venue with music and ongoing conversation.

Students Rashien Cooper, Danny Garcia, Marcantony Torres, and Jerry Canela run the store’s inventory, set prices, and advertise to classes under the guidance of part-time YEZ coordinator Quinn Cushnie. They’re learning some economic principles as well — store prices are low to invite participation — and will eventually earn academic credit for their effort.

[pullquote]Our entrusting the school store’s employees with money and inventory has already been a source of pride and inspiration.[/pullquote]

Our entrusting the store’s employees with money and inventory has already been a source of pride and inspiration. Cooper now identifies the project as “my store,” and is pushing the boundaries of the endeavor by offering delivery around campus. These responsibilities are meant to provide a sense of stability that will, in turn, make the idea of coming to school a little less daunting.

A few days ago, Marcantony Torres’ science teacher asked him how the store was coming along. “Really well!” he replied. “Look, I’m in class!”