Youth Communication and national education leaders discussed strategies to address complex education challenges and create culturally responsive learning communities to:

  • Help young people heal from experiences with racism, sexism, and other injustices
  • Support students to achieve their personal and academic goals
  • Uplift teen voices in a world that too often marginalizes them 


Educators are playing an increasingly vital role in helping young people develop the social and emotional learning skills to navigate systems of oppression—and change them. The symposium included a networking breakfast (in-person), a thought leadership panel, and an interactive session framed with a reading of authentic teen-written stories from Youth Communication’s award-winning writing program. Participants walked away with knowledge and tools to create healing and culturally responsive, supportive learning communities.



Betsy Cohen, Executive Director at Youth Communication
Dana Nurse, Director of Culturally Responsive Education at Youth Communication 


Moderator: Gess LeBlanc, PhD
A sought-after speaker and writer, Dr. LeBlanc is co-author of Youth Communication’s guide to culturally responsive teaching, Who’s in My Classroom?: Building Developmentally and Culturally Responsive School Communities. LeBlanc is an Associate Professor and former Chair of the Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs in the City University of New York’s Hunter College School of Education. He is a co-founder of Hunter College’s Urban Center for Assessment, Research, and Evaluation (UCARE) and co-founder of the college’s MA Program in Educational Psychology. As an expert in the field of child and adolescent development, he has served as an educational consultant to: various urban, suburban, and rural school districts; state agencies; the New York Department of Education; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Studies; the Boys Club of America; the Harlem Center for Education; Prep for Prep; and City Year, Inc.

Limarys Caraballo, PhD
Dr. Limarys Caraballo, a former high school teacher and administrator, is an Associate Professor of English Education and Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is founding co-director of Cyphers for Justice, a youth-engaged research program that supports intergenerational participatory inquiry. Her research, most recently recognized with the 2021 American Educational Research Association Early Career Award, challenges deficit narratives about minoritized youth by amplifying their voices, identities, and literacies.

María Cioè-Peña, PhD
Dr. María Cioè-Peña is a former bilingual special education teacher and currently an assistant professor of Educational Linguistics at Penn GSE. As a neurodiverse, bilingual/biliterate researcher, she examines the intersections of disability, language, school-parent partnerships, and educational policy. María focuses specifically on Latinx bilingual children with dis/abilities, their families, and their ability to access multilingual inclusion within public schools.

Clark Wolff Hamel
Clark Wolff Hamel (he/him) works as PFLAG NYC’s Manager of Educational Programs, implementing and expanding LGBTQ+ education and support in New York City schools for teachers, administrators, students, and families. He also works creating and sharing educational content for colleges and universities, healthcare professionals, and at the corporate level. He is currently finishing his MA in Human Rights at John Jay College and holds a BA in Sociology from Bard College.

Tonya Leslie, PhD
Dr. Tonya Leslie is a literacy expert and equity champion. She got her writing start at Youth Communication as a teen writer. Since then she has authored several children’s books. Dr. Leslie has worked in education her whole career beginning as a secondary English teacher, then as a publisher, and most recently as an educational researcher at Temple University. She is also the co-owner of We Need 2 Talk, a company that focuses on supporting educational professionals with managing and facilitating conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Kayla Ruano-Lumpris
Kayla Ruano-Lumpris is a Youth Communication teen writer and student at Brooklyn Technical High School, Grade 11. She is indigenous Guatemalan, Panamanian, and Afro-Caribbean, and resides in Harlem. Ruano-Lumpris likes to play the double bass, read, and bake, as well as write poems and stories. Ruano-Lumpris is the author of “Not Your Lesson”, a story about the inappropriateness of being forced to watch a graphic video of the killing of Tamir Rice at school. Originally published by Youth Communication, the story was reprinted by The Nation.


The panel of educators, thought leaders, and youth addressed the question, “How can schools and out-of-school organizations support students and facilitate tough conversations about their experiences with racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and able-ism?” We also discussed the changes schools and other youth-serving organizations should make to become culturally responsive learning communities that are supportive and uplifting spaces for all young adults.