Editor’s Note: School Talk is an occasional feature that will look at education and parenting issues in South Philly. If you have concerns, ideas or other thoughts about the state of schools and ways to keep improving them, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weighing in this month is Megan Rosenbach, founder of the Point Breeze group Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary and the driving force behind the new South Philly Schools Coalition.
Before last school year started, I decided to invest in my neighborhood school even though I don’t yet have children. Having taught in a Philadelphia Public School, I know that hardworking teachers and dedicated students are often overlooked while negative stereotypes of neighborhood schools proliferate. I also know that people without school-aged children may not know where to begin when it comes to connecting with their neighborhood school.
There are a lot of new folks moving into Point Breeze, where I live, and I wanted to help shift some energy and attention to Childs Elementary, at 1599 Wharton St. So, I followed the example of many other groups around the city and gathered some neighbors to found Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE).
About six months ago the Passyunk Square Civic Association’s Education Committee hosted an education advocacy seminar. Staff from Education Voters PA and Public Citizens for Children and Youth shared their knowledge of state education funding, standardized testing, charter school accountability, and how we can work to improve public education opportunities in Philadelphia. The activists who gathered that day learned a lot, but more importantly we met one another and began to see that our efforts are larger than the five-block radius around our individual schools.
That belief was the impetus behind the South Philly Schools Coalition (SPSC), which held its first meeting in June. The coalition seeks to bring together the various groups in South Philly who are building relationships and meeting needs at their neighborhood schools. Most of these groups are education committees of their civic associations: Passyunk Square, East Passyunk Crossing, Lower Moyamensing and West Girard. NICE partners with Newbold Neighbors Association, but is not formally a part of the organization. SPSC is actively seeking representatives from other South Philly neighborhoods and schools that are not currently represented. Some coalition members have children who attend their public neighborhood schools, others have children in charter schools, and a few are not yet parents.
The coalition is new and we are forming our identity, but there are few things we know for sure: First, we are stronger when we work together. We hope to share information, strategies, opportunities, and resources. While it is tempting to fear that resources are scarce and there is not enough to go around, we predict that working together will multiply the energy pouring into neighborhood schools, not divide it. Second, by forming this coalition, we display the recognition that investing in just one or two schools will not bring about education equality. When one school thrives and the school three blocks away continues to struggle, inequity prevails. Third, there is power in numbers and now more than ever neighborhood schools need organized citizens, both parents and non-parents, speaking out to ensure that they receive adequate resources and funding.
This fall, the SPSC plans to focus on parent involvement and outreach. Local groups will partner with established Home and School Associations or assist with the necessary outreach to get an association started a school. Part of this initiative entails working with the School District’s Home and School Council to ensure that the procedures for starting and growing a Home and School Association are clear and accessible to parents. Additionally, each individual group will be busy recruiting volunteers to assist in classrooms, raising money for capital improvements, tending school gardens, collecting schools supplies, and more.
If desiring great schools for our own children was the initial motivation for this work, demanding excellent neighborhood schools for families who currently have school-aged children is what keeps us plugging away. Progress means that children in our neighborhoods receive an excellent education now. Progress also looks like walking our children to neighborhood schools years down the road.
– Megan Rosenbach, founder of NICE