Lower East Side Community Hero
Nominated by Ariana Allensworth, International Center for Photography
photo by Whitney Browne
Michael Casiano is the Dean of Student Life at New Design High School.
Michael Casiano was born and raised in the Lower East Side’s Rutgers Houses. As a young, queer, black male, who struggled to succeed as a high school student in the New York City public school system, Michael has dedicated his career to making high school a transformative space for young people who live and learn in the Lower East Side which he currently does as the Dean of Student Life at his alma mater, New Design High School, a small high school with a focus on design in the Lower East Side’s Seward Park Campus. Michael is recognized community-wide for the bright light he shines on everyone he crosses paths with, including the 100s of students he’s mentored and made life-long impressions on.
Michael often mentors teens across the identity spectrum who are often most marginalized by the public school system, supporting them in getting back on track to graduate and find belonging at school. His unapologetic queerness and vivacious personality has supported New Design in being seen as a safe space for queer youth to attend school. Michael emcees New Design’s annual Newspaper Fashion show, during which students design apparel made out of recycled materials and is often a space for New Design’s gender non-conforming students to shine down the catwalk. Michael still lives in Rutgers Houses, where many Seward Park students live, creating a connection between home and school often absent in the school system and ensuring students have a reflection of their neighborhood at school. He also has coached the NDHS basketball team and ensured that there is a vibrant after school community at NDHS. If you ask any student he has worked with, he is without a doubt an unsung hero of the LES!