Fattah prepares for a new term with visit to MLK

Dominic Castelli’s social studies class at Martin Luther King High School was in full swing Monday when the discussion turned to today’s political agendas. 

 A student’s arm shot up.

“Increasing the minimum wage,” she said, referring to the Democratic Party.

Chalk in hand, Castelli paused and looked to his right.

“Would that be a plank?” he said.

Before him, stood Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who, the day before starting his 11th term in Washington, was strolling King’s halls and classrooms to get a closer look at one of the neighborhood schools served by his Second Congressional District.

“Yes,” said Fattah, “but under the heading of income equality.”

For the veteran lawmaker, visiting schools like MLK isn’t about votes, but better understanding his district and, specifically, its needs, financial, programmatic, or otherwise.

“You don’t want to be talking about things you don’t know anything about,” said Fattah.

Or craft legislation without context.

Despite it being a busy first day back after the Christmas break, Principal William Wade was happy to have Fattah finally see King, the only public high school left in that part of Northwest Philadelphia.

The school’s tireless leader will take all the eyes he can get.

“I just want to let everybody to know that we’re relevant, these children count,” said Wade. “Everybody should know about the work that we’re doing so I’m excited that they’re here.”

Teachers also didn’t mind Fattah taking a few minutes of their class to introduce himself and field questions from students, mostly about his interest in the job and how he got into politics.

“Anytime they have someone who is successful in front of them that takes the time to talk to them and take questions it’s a great thing. They don’t get that every day here,” said teacher Donna Widmann after Fattah popped into her second-floor classroom. “

In the coming term, Fattah said he wants to expand his Gear Up (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) initiative, aimed at preparing underserved students for college.

He’ll also reintroduce the America’s FOCUS (Funding Future Opportunity and Outcomes in the United States) Act, a measure that, if passed, would re-route the billions the federal government has collected in corporate civil and criminal fines to STEM education programs, among other things.

“All of that is an outgrowth of what I learn at places like King,” said Fattah.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal