C.W. Henry School students, parents and teachers talk budget-cut impacts with Mayor Nutter

Seventh-grader Jared Taylor often volunteers to stay after school to straighten desks and sweep his classroom and the hallways. It’s a tough choice since it leaves his younger sister, a third grader, waiting for him outside the Carpenter Lane institution.

He cares about C.W. Henry School — the Mt. Airy K-8 he’s attended since kindergarten — and recent budget cuts have often left the school messy. 

“I take pride in my classroom and the school,” Taylor said. 

Sharing concerns with the Mayor

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Taylor was one of eight students and several parents and teachers who met with Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday afternoon to talk about the on-the-ground impact of budget cuts on the school. 

It’s one of four such visits the mayor is making to schools this season. 

Their concerns ranged from a lack of full-time non-teaching support staff — like nurses, gifted support teachers, librarians and assistant principals — and cuts in extracurricular activities to the quality of workbooks distributed to students. 

The need for a full-time counselor — a rarity at district schools — was brought up multiple times.

Hearing first-hand accounts

After being laid off and then brought back on board last year, Maxine Coker started the year off splitting her time as a counselor between eight different schools.

She was restored to C.W. Henry full time in November but found out on Wednesday she will be at two schools next year. 

Eighth-grade teacher Francesca Cantorini described a morning she woke up to an email from a student who said she had just swallowed a bottle of pills.

She was able to get in touch with Coker and intervene to get the student the emotional and physical help she needed, but said the quick, comprehensive response wouldn’t have been possible without a counselor’s help. 

In addition to the emotional support counselors provide students, counselors are largely responsible for helping eighth-grade students apply to high schools. Without them, eighth-grade teachers are likely to fill that role. 

“I don’t know how we would constantly navigate those waters effectively and efficiently to get them in the best high schools possible,” said Cantorini.

Seventh-grader Dominique Smith, the school’s student-council president, agreed. 

“I really need help with high-school choices and I have a lot of friends who have problems at home,” she said. “When they come to me, I don’t know what to do. I go to the counselors and teachers.”

Mayoral advice

Nutter encouraged the students to continue speaking to elected officials. 

“You have your entire lives still very, very much ahead of you,” Nutter said. “What happens here in elementary school is critical to the start of a successful life, and if you don’t get off on the right foot, it’s going to be that much harder down the line.

“Tell these folks to come in and talk to them about your experiences.”

Recycling grant awarded

The day at C.W. Henry had already been busy before Nutter dropped by for his afternoon visit. 

On Wednesday morning, the school was recognized for its school garden by Recylebank, an organization that works to promote sustainable lifestyles.

Chosen among 12 schools in Philadelphia, C.W. Henry was granted $1,947 to continue expanding gardening efforts. 

The money will go toward building trellises for fruits and vegetables planted in the school’s three plots and outdoor classroom, as well as funding for “Farmer Dave” to spend more time at the school working with classes and the gardening club.

Among other fruits and vegetables, kale, garlic, lettuce, broccoli, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries grow in the C.W. Henry garden.

The grant will go a long way at the school, according to principal Fatima Rogers. 

“The garden offers students the chance to learn through experience and fosters a genuine love for nature that they can carry with them after they leave our hallways,” she said. 

C.W. Henry also received a one-year supply of EarthChoice office paper from paper-supply company Domtar. 

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