When DePaul Catholic School student-council president Kennady Wright met Mayor Michael Nutter at a January press conference, she asked him one question: Why haven’t you ever visited my school?
He responded that he’d never been invited, handed the eighth grader a business card and said, “Have your principal call me.”
On Friday, Wright and Nutter met again. It was on Logan Street in Germantown, at the school’s front door. An invitation had been extended, and an invitation had been accepted.
Between breakfast with HRH The Prince Edward and a dinnertime appearance at the 2012 Philadelphia Antiques Show Preview Night, Nutter met with students, teachers and other interested parties.
Outside the school
Together, they ventured out onto Rockland Street, where the police strike-force division had just conducted a raid.
An hour removed from that, children led the way to check in on the progress of a community garden spurred on by Nutter’s call to have a pair of abandoned buildings demolished after visiting the site last year.
As first graders held up a crayon-drawn vision of what could become of the site at Rockland and Greene streets, he recounted his earlier visit.
“What would it take to do this?” he asked.
While the block captain wasn’t on hand, her sister Emaleigh Doley handed the mayor a folder filled with details of future goals for the site. That’s what it would take to do this.
There was talk of leveling the site, building retaining walls and enabling city agencies to do what they could to help neighbors turn visions into realities.
“Let me get this [information] back to the shop, to Parks and Recreation, because I think we have great project, a great neighborhood garden here. I would love to see this happen,” said Nutter, who then pointed at the children’s sign and added, “As long as you promise me that I get a picture of this.”
Inside the school
After the tour of the would-be community garden, most of the Philadelphia Independent Mission school’s 285 students had assembled in the cafeteria downstairs.
There, Principal Sister Cheryl Ann Hillig introduced students Jaden Smith and Kayla Williams, who read their entries in the school’s “If I Was Mayor” assignment prior to Nutter’s visit.
“I’ll always be good and never lie to people,” read Smith, on the small wooden stage, from an essay that also addressed hunger, homelessness and gun violence.
Williams noted that she’d reach out to CEOs “so they would bring their businesses here” and, thus, more jobs.
“We need more police,” she continued, “so kids can play outside without violence all around them.”
Eighth grader Diana Striplet then performed some spoken-word poetry blending New Edition’s “Candy Girl,” a song about Sesame Street character Elmo and frustration about seeing “a man with his pants halfway down selling drugs to another man.”
Plentiful summer-rec programs
Before Nutter took the stage to talk to the students, the school’s fifth graders showed off some of the steps they learned in a ballroom-dancing program.
Nutter noted that he attended a Catholic school just like DePaul when he was young and how the “If I Was Mayor” entries were “very consistent with the things I’m trying to do.”
Then, he singled out the graduating eighth graders to drive his stay-in-school message home.
“You’re only halfway through your education, you know that right?” he said. “Eight down, how many more to go?”
After asking the kindergarteners whether they’re ready for the challenges that lay ahead – “They’re the best. Challenges?” he said, miming the shrugs he got in response from the youngsters – Nutter said he’d work on the garden project for them.
Then, he urged them to sign up for summer-recreation offerings in the city, which will be the focus of an upcoming media push.
“We have a lot of things they can do,” Nutter said, noting that all city pools will be open this summer. “All they have to do is sign up.”