Northeast students show solidarity during proposed school closings

Posted on 12.22.2012

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5th period African American History - 33 students do a free write about solidarity with University City students whose school is slated to be shut down next year.

5th period African American History – 33 students do a free write about solidarity with University City students whose school is slated to be shut down next year.

Tears sprung into my eyes and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled last Saturday’s as students and teachers from University City Highschool eloquently asked the superintendant of the Philadelphia School District why he was closing their school down.  Over 2 weeks ago the district announced a plan to close 37 schools, displacing 17,000 students.  This is troubling for so many reasons, many of them already have been better articulated (read here for a great piece on some of the problems).

Last Saturday there were many angry and hurt voices among the crowd who shouted, pleaded, sometimes wept in front of school district officials.  In many ways, it was just another community forum in Philadelphia: officials gave a presentation that seemed to lack empathy and personality – just presenting the plan and what they’ll do to ensure it goes smoothly.  People in the crowd sat throughout the auditorium, usually in the middle or the back.  There were groups of people organized, the local news and local community organizers.  At the end of the presentation the audience was given an opportunity to ask questions about the plan into a mic that was passed around.  In Philadelphia fashion people then began to vent: some yelled, some interrupted, some cried, some were just plain rabble rousing statements.  The district officials looked tired and looked scared; superintendant Hite seemed to try his best to answer as many of the ‘questions’ as possible.

It was hard to watch and be part of.

There were a few comments that were really productive though.  Especially those from University City Students and their teachers (who I admit, I am close friends with).  They made a great point and asked a great question – one that I have yet to hear from ANYONE else (shameful!):  U-city students and staff have been steadily improving their school by all accounts.  I know first hand how hard everyone in that building works; they care so deeply about a quality education and are doing some incredible things together.  Their question is why isn’t our work good enough?

It’s the most important question for these youngsters who really have achieved great things.

It’s also a heart wrenching question.  You can see it on their faces and in their words.

My heart aches for these kids and for their teachers.   All around them people are fighting, some are even fighting over U-City.  This city is tearing itself appart at the seams as different groups hurl accusations back and forth at each other.  There is angry shouting, posturing and lots and lots of fear for the future.  In the midst of this fighting I see and hear students and staff caught on an island in the middle.  On Saturday these kids sat amongst all the vitriol and asked the most important question: why aren’t you noticing our successes?  Why aren’t we good enough?

I can only imagine how painful this is.

I hear about how their community is in such pain over this fight going on in the district.  As a teacher and an adult I can only think of the students and communities that are literally being ripped apart by the news of these closings.  On Saturday, I saw brave students and teachers speaking from the heart: why are you doing this to us despite our success; we have done everything you have asked and you’re still ripping our world appart.

People fear for the future but I am more concerned about the students and staff at U-City now.  Now is the time to bring people together; not by closing schools.  I don’t know what the solution is for the district’s problems, but I do know that finding common ground as a community is essential.

U-City: you are not alone.  We are with you every step of the way.  Over the past 3 days myself and students at Northeast have been reading about what is happening within the district, and are trying to put ourselves in your shoes – imagining what it would be like if our school was slated to close.  On the third day we wanted to show our solidarity with what you might be feeling.

Some are ready to fight, others simply want to listen, still others are ready to be a shoulder to cry on if that’s what you want.

You are not alone and you are heard.  We are here to listen and let you know that you are being incredibly brave, articulate, thoughtful and most importantly: being successful.  You’re work does not go unnoticed and we’d like to continue it with you.

Some student examples I have scanned in already:

Letter of Support

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