Dressed in red and black shirts that read, “We are not flashmobs, we are innovators, thinkers, artists, motivators, leaders or organizers,” members of the Philadelphia Student Union gathered last Thursday to discuss the state of the Philadelphia School District from the students’ perspective.
The open-panel discussion, co-sponsored by the Urban League of Philadelphia, enabled leaders in the Philadelphia education system and community to hear students’ thoughts on how best to mend the reputation and build a better future for local youths.Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement for the Philadelphia Education Funds, and Michael A. Walker, the chief counsel to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, moderated. Walker’s boss opened the event as guest speaker. He discussed work he has done to provide scholarships and grants for aspiring college students. He also challenged adults to get involved.
“They can do better if we do better,” Fattah said. Then, each student panelist was given the opportunity to ask questions of the audience.
“Do adults believe that students should have a say-so in the decision-making process regarding youth and the School District?” asked a West Philadelphia High student, who noted that students “do not know what is going on. We need a place at the table too.”
A recent Furness High School graduate followed by asking, “Can students perform better in smaller-sized classrooms or large-sized classrooms?” Most audience members agreed it depends on the specific student’s learning style.
The other two student panelists focused on budget cuts, how to distribute funds from vouchers, community relations and approaches for bridging perceived gaps between youths and adults.
Ami Patel, policy advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Education, suggested that students join the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools, a group made up of a cross-section of the city’s leaders addressing School District issues.
Adam Gattuso and Karen Stokes from the Governor’s southeastern regional office vowed to report back to the Governor’s office about what they heard.
“These are the students of our future. They are very bright and it’s truly sad to see that there is not a great deal of youth participating here today,” Walker said.
Urban League president and CEO Patricia Coulter assured attendees that the ideas and discussions from the meeting would be distributed to those who were in attendance and made available for others to receive the information as well.