New parent resource center opens in North Philly elementary school

Members of the School Reform Commission join parents and school officials in cutting the ribbon to open a new Parent Resource Center at Thomas Pierce Elementary School. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Members of the School Reform Commission join parents and school officials in cutting the ribbon to open a new Parent Resource Center at Thomas Pierce Elementary School. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ahead of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s push to create 25 “community schools,” the Philadelphia School District is also working to make its schools hubs for community engagement.

On Tuesday, the district unveiled a new parent resource center inside Thomas Pierce Elementary in North Philadelphia.

Funded by a nearly $225,000 three year grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a once unused room in the school will become a workspace and technology center for parents in the community.

Superintendent William Hite said the district aims to give all of its schools such a space.

“We’re trying to update the resources in those rooms so that parents have access to things like how to enroll children in high schools, information about how they can help teach their children to read, do math, how they can become involved, how they can complete job applications themselves,” he said.

The grant was awarded to the school because of the efforts of School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms’ advocacy group Parent Power — which has opened similar centers at nearby Murrell Dobbins High School and James G. Blaine elementary.

As a North Philly resident, Simms says she knows too well the ills of the community.  She hopes the new center will help parents break cycles of generational poverty.

‘What we want to do is help parents help themselves so they can better help their children,” she said.

Simms’ sister Quibila Divine wrote the grant. Before a packed room of parents, district officials and political leaders, Divine couched the achievement as the latest in a decades long career as an advocate for better public schools.

“This started in 1994 when I wrote a grant to do positive peer programs for the little children in my neighborhood, because they were coming home and not knowing about education,” she said.

Simms and Divine faced questions this week in a piece by The Philadelphia Public School Notebook for their actions and connections regarding the possible charter school conversion of Wister Elementary in Germantown.

Simms called the story a “distraction.”

“Here we’ve got adults focusing on adult foolishness,” she said. “Let’s focus on the children.”

Divine said she did not read the story and bristled at questions related to it.

“There are some people who do not want low-income people involved in their child’s education,” she said, “because, unfortunately, the system has been failing our children for generations.”

Though not connected with Mayor Jim Kenney, the aims of this resource center align with the mayor’s initiative to create 25 community schools that would become hubs of medical and social services.

Kenney plans to fund his community schools initiative in part with a new tax on sugary drinks. He’ll lay out the details of the plan at his budget address Thursday.

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