As an education institution for city children through the past century, George W. Childs Community School has served as a staple in the Philadelphia School District. The school has a proud history of successful, diligent students and is recognized for the active community members who participate in the school’s advancement.
While these factors remain an important facet of the school’s character, the core of the school’s identity is drastically altering with a series of swift changes that have been happening over the last few years.
Beginning with the school’s change in location in 2010, residents of Point Breeze have seen the school community undergo many external and internal changes over the last three years. Switching from its original location at 17th and Tasker streets to the former Barratt Junior High School building at 17th and Wharton streets, community members have struggled to accept the school’s changing identity as well as the uncertain future of the beloved former building.
Beyond the physical changes, this year the size of the student body increased to 800 students as the school absorbed the now closed Walter G. Smith Elementary School.
In June alone, 24 schools within the Philadelphia School District closed with five merging or relocating. This blend of students in schools with different curricula has been creating issues in various classrooms and Childs remains no exception as the family from Smith races to catch up with the academic precedent of Childs.
Megan Rosenbach, founder of Neighbors Invested in Childs Elementary (NICE), has been a leading force in making the change work for the school. As a former teacher for the Philadelphia School District, Rosenbach’s dedication to the students at Childs Elementary is shown through her partnership with parents and the school faculty.
“We want to, along with the parents and teachers and students there, create a long-term vision for Child’s school. We’re really passionate about including all voices,” Rosenbach said. “We’re doing a lot of fundraising and we want to make sure that the money is going to be used in a way that the people who Childs is serving want it to be used. We want it to be used in strategic ways that are going to do the most amount of good for the most amount of students over the longest period of time.”
Parents like Kim Smith, who attended Childs Elementary and sent her own children there, have been active in making NICE meet their goals. Smith and Rosenbach have spearheaded a few projects within the school, including a full restoration of the school’s library to provide a better facility for the students.
“When we got in there, it was literally just boxes of dusty books,” Rosenbach shared. “So Kim Smith and I mobilized a lot of volunteers to learn the Dewey Decimal System and alphabetized things. The whole community has really come around that project. It’s a huge success story because we now have a full-time librarian and we are one of twelve schools in the whole city. That’s because the principal is really passionate about literacy.”
The current principal, Dr. Eileen F. Coutts, is in her second year with Childs Elementary, having taken over for Daniel Poe when the transition between Childs and Barratt was completed.
Rosenbach said Coutts has been a great educator to partner with but because the school has limited resources from the district, short staffing creates a rough learning environment. When Smith joined Childs, the school district mandated leveling between the faculties from the two schools, creating a mixed team at a new location with a short breadth of resources to suffice the bigger student body.
“It’s just a lot of instability for children,” Rosenbach said. “Decisions are not being made with children’s best interest in mind. Then the super dedicated staff that are at the building are just there to put out the fires and do the best they can with the little resources they are given.”
“I wish we had more support from the district because the morale is going down as far as the parents and the students and the staff,” Smith said. “I think teachers in the district, they need more support and it’s really hard dealing with a lot of children without support staff. It’s getting crazy.”
Rosenbach and Smith have been working with 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson as well as trying to advocate with members of the school district to acquire the resources the school needs. The councilman, who graduated from Childs, said he believes the relocation to 16th and Wharton streets was the right move for the school, as it brings vitality to the area. Johnson pointed out that without the move, the former Barratt Junior High building would also become a vacant building, as the former Childs Community School building remains now.
“Most of the children live one or two blocks away, so I think it’s a good thing for that immediate area,” Johnson said. “And now, because you have to level with new residents moving into the area, they’ve adopted the school so there are some relationships with old residents and new residents to make sure that Childs is a better school moving forward in the future.”
Under the current direction of Dr. Coutts, the school has partnered with a few outside agencies, such as Philadelphia Dream Academy and City Year, to provide fresh learning strategies for the students. City Year’s dropout prevention and assisted-learning goals are especially crucial for students struggling due to the influx of new students from Smith Elementary.
Based on the different curricula both schools were using prior to joining, learning curves and lesson plans are undergoing major modifications in efforts to accommodate both sets of students and unify their levels of learning. In the 2011-2012 school year alone, City Year’s guidance accounted for a national 46 percent rise in attendance from students in grades 6 through 9. Additionally, at least 85 percent of students in grades 3 through 5 participating in City Year’s national literacy programs were able to raise scores on assessments. The program also instills a sense of civic engagement, with three quarters of alumni feeling more engaged in civic activity and at least 85 percent reporting a deeper commitment to community service after participation in the program.
These important educators, activists and administrative teams are integral to furthering the school’s future, and even while funding remains scarce, determination and passion are abound.
“It’s the school where I got my start to become the man who I am and it’s an awesome public school,” said Councilman Johnson. “We want to make sure all young people get a quality public education. We want to make sure we be supportive of them—the neighborhood schools—to keep up the good work.”
“The school family itself is awesome,” Smith said, but added she would like to see more resources available for the school to accommodate its students and thrive.
“I think we all serve the same goal—anything that’s positive that we can bring to the community and to the school,” Smith said. “We try to do that, we try to help with the resources that are not available, assist the principal in any we can.”
Rosenbach said she believes the heart to a functioning community is a solid education system, which is something she would like to see continue between Childs Elementary and Point Breeze.
“The focus was just to lend a little love to the school” Rosenbach said, “to see what was going on and how I could pull together more resources to get the neighborhood involved in supporting the school, whether you have children who go to that school, or not.”