School Talk: South Philly civics focus on education

Editor’s Note: Welcome to School Talk, a monthly guest column looking at education 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 To kick things off, we have Christine Knapp, education committee chair at the Passyunk Square Civic Association.


great schoolsIt’s clear that South Philadelphia neighborhoods have been undergoing a dramatic change over the last several years that has created a palpable new energy.

However, much of that growth and excitement is stymied when parents begin to think about sending their children to school. Many parents assume that their local public school isn’t an option, which creates a scramble to get into charter or private schools. Others immediately begin to look to the suburbs for educational options.

For many civic associations, it has become obvious that the community must become an active partner in supporting our local public schools in order to retain young families. If parents don’t feel they have strong educational opportunities for their children, we will continue to lose our friends and neighbors to other communities in and outside of the city. On the other hand, strong public schools can be a terrific economic development tool. Take a look at the housing prices in the Penn Alexander school catchment area in West Philadelphia for an example of how families will flock to neighborhoods that provide good schools.

Seeing the connection between schools and neighborhood stability, the Passyunk Square Civic Association Education Committee has been collaborating with the Andrew Jackson School, 12th and Federal, since 2009, working with Principal Lisa Kaplan and parents to plant a garden, reopen the school library, renovate classrooms, install a mural, and provide volunteers for Reading Buddies and other programs. By promoting both Jackson and the Eliza Kirkbride School, 7th and Dickinson, the committee is encouraging parents to take tours and learn more about the schools before making assumptions. These efforts are paying off, as enrollment has been increasing every year at both schools. At the same time, neighbors feel more connected to the schools and have a better appreciation for them.

Other neighborhoods are also encouraging investment in public schools. East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association is working to support the Southwark School by facilitating a School Advisory Council.  Newbold Neighbors is part of Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE), which is raising money and volunteering to revitalize the Childs School library.  West Passyunk Neighbors Association is collaborating with Girard Elementary, organizing volunteers to walk with students to and from school to create a safe walking environment. Queen Village Neighbors Association is working with both Meredith and Nebinger elementary schools by adopting classrooms to help provide needed resources.

Lower Moyamensing Civic Association is also collaborating with South Philadelphia High School. In fact, the collaboration between Lower Moyamensing Civic Association and the South Philadelphia High School has led to the development of an extraordinary project that would benefit students and the surrounding community.  Together, they are embarking on a fundraising campaign to transform the 5.5 acre campus into active green space, including a green roof on top of the school.

The garden will be incorporated into the school curriculum, teaching kids about biology, agriculture, and the importance of healthy eating. Food grown at the garden will be utilized in the school’s culinary arts program and sold at low-cost farm stands, and donated to low-income community members.

The green campus will also provide opportunities for neighbors to be engaged. The school is centrally located on Broad Street and easily accessible to the surrounding community, which also lacks open space. Neighbors will have the chance to garden, to volunteer with maintenance, or to simply enjoy the greenery.

Projects like these demonstrate the value in building stronger relationships between schools and their neighbors, and over the coming months, we’ll delve into some of these issues and initiatives in this column.  As the tagline for the PSCA Education committee says- great schools equal great neighborhoods.

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