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How the other half learns: A field trip from Kensington to the suburbs

newsworks
  • kensington suburbs
    Kevin McCorry (NewsWorks/WHYY)

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For one day, a group of Philadelphia teenagers experienced life at a wealthy, suburban high school. This is what they saw.

You can find the story of Pennsylvania's education funding system carved into Hakeem Thompson's biceps.

Thompson, a senior at Kensington Health Sciences Academy (KHSA) in Philadelphia, is a middle linebacker on the school football team. Because the District has not spent the money to provide a regulation field where the squad can practice, they play instead on a crooked patch of grass behind a neighboring high school.

"Our field is not good at all," Thompson says. "We play on rocks and everything."

He lifts up his sleeves to reveal a scatter-plot of cuts and scars. When you play on a ragged field, your body bears the testament.

Classmate Ruth Andujar scans the bruises across Thompson's arms and offers a simple, excited evaluation:

"Yoooooo, that's nasty."

A bus ride to Methacton

When we first meet Thompson and Andujar, we're barreling northwest on a school bus. This is technically a class trip, but our destination isn't a museum or an amusement park. It's another school.

We're busing out to the suburbs, to see how the other half learns. Our destination is Methacton High School in Montgomery County.

The Methacton School District is a paragon of privilege. The median income of district households is roughly $100,000. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the district spent $19,471 per student. The school population is almost entirely White and Asian. That's the 71st-highest spending total of the state's 500 school districts. Just 15.7 percent of students are economically disadvantaged – compared to 50 percent statewide – and 86 percent of graduating seniors go on to college, many of them attending some of the world's most prestigious universities.

The students from KHSA receive about $6,000 less per year from the School District of Philadelphia, which ranks 418th statewide in per-pupil expenditures. Nearly all of them are Black and Latino, and they live largely in neighborhoods that rank among Philadelphia's worst in terms of crime.

"You get people getting shot down, people getting caught up smoking weed every day," says Andujar, who immigrated to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico about seven years ago. "You see that every day. You see prostitutes on every corner. It's terrible."

In some ways, KHSA fits the stereotype of a troubled urban school. Test scores are well below the District average, and just two-thirds of its students graduate on time. The School District of Philadelphia announced late last year that it would implement turnaround plans at KHSA and 10 other schools because of consistently low academic performance.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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