With film, students document dire conditions in Philly schools

A student-produced documentary that provides an overview of the Philadelphia School District’s funding crisis will premiere Wednesday night at an event hosted by Philly School Counselors United.

Dalena Bui and Danielle Little, seniors at Science Leadership Academy, co-directed the 8-minute film, which they’ve titled “Schools Interrupted.”

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college,” narrates Bui in the film. “My parents are immigrants from Vietnam, and they sacrificed their lives so that my siblings and I could have a better education and a better life.”

The film specifically laments the fact that budget cuts have severely reduced students’ access to guidance counselors this year.

“I was lucky to have my teachers, advisers and counselors intact,” says Bui. “Our school community spent a lot of time and energy fundraising to make this happen. But, again, I just got lucky. But should we just hope for luck?”

Counselors have been a premium in schools across the city this year. For the first few months of the year, the district relied on 16 itinerant counselors to serve 48,000 students.

At this point, 44 schools still only have counseling services for 2.5 days a week.

Central High School currently has two counselors for 2,400 students. Northeast High has two for 3,000 students. Last year the schools had ten and seven counselors respectively.

The district faces a $96 million shortfall that, unless addressed, will cause even more cuts to schools already been stripped to the core.

For Masterman guidance counselor Heather Marcus, that’s a scenario she can’t bring herself to contemplate – both for her students and her own mental well-being.

“I put 100 percent into my work, and over the past month or so, I’m completely burnt out,” she said. “There’s only so much energy that I have.”

Masterman currently has two counselors for 1,200 students. 

Marcus, who said she feels perpetually guilty because she knows more students need her, says there simply isn’t enough time in the day. “It’s a horrible feeling to know that kids need something and no one’s helping them,” she said. “I’m really reaching a breaking point.”

At Wednesday night’s event, the counselors will also celebrate the winners of their first essay contest. Ruba Idris, a senior at Central, was chosen as the winner and will receive $2,000 for college expenses. Nona Sharp, another Central senior, will receive $200.

Marcus secured the money for this award from hip-hop artist Chuck D.

The event, which is open to the public, will take place Wednesday evening at the The Franklin Institute’s Musser Theater from 5 to 6:30.

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