With threats of cuts to the music and art programs looming at Jenks Elementary School in Chestnut Hill, parents, teachers, administrators and community members are taking action.
Within the last several months they formed the Friends of J.S. Jenks (FJSJ), an independent fundraising organization dedicated to supporting the development of the school.
Haviva Goldman, president of the board of directors for the FJSJ, is stepping down from her position as vice president of the Jenks Home and School Association (HSA) to lead the FJSJ movement. She is taking on this role along with her full time job as a professor at Drexel University. Goldman is also a mother of a second grader at Jenks.
“People recognize that there is more to education than just the basics of reading and writing,” said Goldman, “there is a perception that in the Philadelphia Public Schools there is a lot of teaching to the test and not much else. Jenks is an example of a school where the music and arts have always been a strength and we want to build on that.”
A school budget “cut to the bone”
Goldman says that one of the cuts at Jenks eliminated the school’s art teaching position. The cut meant that art class was reduced to two days a week and only some grades would have an authentic art class. For example, students in the lower grades are only able to have art in the classroom, rather than as a separate pull-out period.
School budget cuts have also cut the school’s police officer, who built a school safety program, as well as lunch-time aides and other support personnel. Goldman says the principal and other staff members have had to fill in during lunch periods and recess to supervise children.
“Everyone is stretched very thin at the school,” said Goldman.
After school programs have also been cut, although the teachers continued the clubs even without payment. The school’s discretionary funds, or money used for things like text books, paper and office supplies, have also been diminished.
Goldman says Jenks is like all Philadelphia schools with a school budget that has been “cut to the bone.” The FJSJ has rounded-up these concerns along with the foresight that further cuts to art and music are around the corner.
Making an idea a reality
The FJSJ sprouted from conversations among parents who saw a need for fundraising on a larger scale than what the HSA is able to generate. Since HSA funds need to be spent the year that they are raised, spreading funds through the long-term is also an issue.
“An independent, not-for-profit organization would provide a more effective route for long term, large scale fundraising,” said Goldman.
The idea has been brewing for the last few years and Goldman initially invited a group of parents to convene at her house to discuss the possibilities.
“It was hard for us to get started,” said Goldman, “since none of us had the expertise to do all the paperwork needed to set up an organization.”
She says with more active parents joining the school each year, the group was able to gain momentum. Their first planning meeting was held at O’Doodles toy store in December, and they then began actively planning. The group worked on legalities, paper work, a vision/mission, fundraising goals, public relations and a website.
“Things progressed rapidly these past few months and we are excited that we are finally off the ground,” said Goldman.
Currently, the FJSJ executive board consists of four people including current Jenks parents and there are more than a dozen volunteers from the community involved. The board will also include the school principal, school staff members and civic leaders.
One main goal of the group is to enhance the educational and enrichment opportunities for students by bringing together financial and creative resources.
A secondary goal is to insure long-range financial flexibility for the school, allowing the school to develop more programs in the future. The FJSJ also hopes to partner with other groups in Chestnut Hill for long-term partnership and support.
“We know that our organization can’t solve all of the challenges facing the school,” said Goldman, “but community partnerships and collaborations are crucial right now, and ultimately these partnerships will be a win-win for the school, the neighborhood and the community as a whole.”
The group will host its first kick-off fundraiser event to benefit the music and arts programs at the school on Saturday June 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. at The Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Field. The event will include a silent auction and raffle featuring donated items from local businesses, and from parents and friends of the school. There will also be refreshments and performances by J.S. Jenks music students and live music by local and regional musicians.
The funds raised from this event will support the instrumental music program, which is in danger of further cuts in the next academic year, and to the art program, which is in danger of being lost. The suggested donation at entry is $20 per person, $30 for two and $40 per family.
Goldman hopes that community members will take an interest in supporting public education, and will recognize the value of a strong neighborhood public school.
“Our silent auction and fundraiser is just a first step,” said Goldman.