University City: Students Rally for Quality Education

Adam Mitchell and Evette Jones encouraged the crowd to stand up for public education.

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The students in Philadelphia’s public school system want everyone to know their education should not be a victim of budget cuts.

Philadelphia Student Union is home to some of these students from around the city who stand up for high-quality education.

The non-profit organization has been around since 1996 and works to address issues such as school funding, building conditions and teacher quality. They have led successful campaigns and protests in the past to give students the learning experience they need.

Currently,  they are focused on making their voices heard on Philadelphia’s public education system, specifically the imminent school closings. On Wednesday afternoon, students from the group attended May Day, a rally/get together at Elmwood Park, located between 71st Street and Buist Avenue.

Student band members played for the audience.
Student band members played for the audience.

The park was filled with parents, supporters and students. They gathered to hear speeches and to express their displeasure at the current state of the city’s public education system.

“Today we are facing a crisis in education. As a result of our schools not being funded like they need to be, students are not prepared to pass the state exam. This has caused the academic levels of our schools to drop. That gives the city a reason to close down our schools,” Adam Mitchell, Philadelphia Student Union member, said.

Adam Mitchell and Evette Jones encouraged the crowd to stand up for public education.
Adam Mitchell and Evette Jones encouraged the crowd to stand up for public education.

He reassured those in attendance working together would make their opinions heard. On March 7, 19 PSU members were arrested at the district for protesting the School Reform Commission meeting on school closings.

Jeana Hynes, a 13-year-old student, said she spoke in front of a crowd Tuesday evening to give a voice to those who do not have one. She said she feels strongly about the issue because it is unfair for children to have to watch their schools shut down due to the Mayor.

“He has millions of dollars but he’s not putting it into the schools. He’s putting it into the prisons and other systems,” Hynes said.

Last month, Mayor Nutter proposed an increase in the prison system by $11 million, bringing the total to $238.8 million. The announcement came around the same time as the 23 schools were voted to shut down.

Sam Jones, lead organizer of Fight for Philly, represented his group at the gathering Tuesday. He said he and other members aim to ensure quality public education for the children of Philadelphia during this critical time.

“We realize that the basis of this problem is corporate administration in Harrisburg which has deliberately underfunded the public school system in Philadelphia. We feel that it is a systematic attack on public education,” Jones said.

Sharon Snyder, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School, said she remains frustrated with the recent education decision. She said she is most worried about the increase in number of students per classroom that the closings will bring.

“It’s already hard for the teachers to teach the class because there’s too many students. One teacher can not do everything and so bringing more students to my school and other schools is going to make everything worse,” Snyder said.

Students from various schools, from West and North Philadelphia, expressed similar concerns regarding the changes predicted to come next school year. Student to teacher ratios are expected to increase about one-third and children from different neighborhoods will be mixed into the same classrooms.

Jeremy Olivieri, another Ben Franklin high student, said he wishes the situation had been handled differently and believes too many closings could lead to violence.

“This decision is going to affect me a lot as I already struggle with violence in the school. I get into fights occasionally and it seems like every day a fight is about to happen. Today there was one over a girl. It’s just going to get worse and worse,” said Aleveri.

By summer 2011, the number of Philadelphia school violence incidents had risen to 4,541. This statistic is expected to grow as students from closing schools transfer to ones in other neighborhoods.

PSU members and other city students want their questions to be answered by school officials. Together, they hope to accomplish the change needed in Philadelphia  public school system.

School children of all ages gathered for the May Day Rally.
School children of all ages gathered for the May Day Rally.

In the meantime, the West Philadelphia High School chapter of PSU is campaigning for their school located at 49th and Chestnut streets.

Five of the students conducted studies with Research for Action and found parents want to be more involved in their children’s school activities. By making the school more community based, they believe they can bridge the student-parent gap.

“They say that children are the future. By closing our schools, they’re killing our future,” Mitchell said.

University City: School Closings Invoke Mixed Emotions

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