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Students remember Saturday school at Promise Academies

By the Notebook on Aug 5, 2011 11:11 AM

by Katrina Morrison


During the school year, on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m., you might find Saadiyah Jones asleep at home while Glenika Creese walks into her Saturday morning advisory period.

The idea that two Philadelphia School District students have different Saturday mornings may seem typical. But these students are not just two students in the District. They are two students who attend the same Promise Academy, University City High School. Until the District’s recent decision to cut Saturday sessions to help close the budget gap, Promise Academy students were required to attend Saturday programming.

According to the two students, despite these mandates, not all students attended.

Jones, a member of University City’s 2011 graduating class, did not attend a single Saturday session.

“I don’t get up (early) on Saturdays,” she said. “I never went.”

Jones was encouraged to attend so she could use the time and space to work on her senior project. But she had already completed much of the work she needed to do.

“I see it as pointless. I am graduating. I passed all my classes. That’s making us stay in school (and) who wants to come to school on a Saturday?”

Jones’ attitude helps explain the recently published finding that Saturday schools have low attendance. In its first year as a Promise Academy, University City High’s average attendance for Saturday programming  was 48 percent from October to May.  

Low attendance at Saturday school has received attention not only because students are missing out on enriching activities, but also because Saturday school, along with extended school days that were the initial hallmarks of the Promise initiative, incur additional costs for a district facing an unprecedented budget deficit.  

If students do not attend, it brings into question whether it is worth keeping Saturday school as it is or to explore other educational options as Renaissance efforts move into year two.

Earlier this week, the School District of Philadelphia – amid outrage from parents and educators – announced the elimination of Saturday school at its six existing and three new Promise Academies. It also decided to scale back the extended school day to four days.

This restructuring is expected to save the District $17.7 million, helping to close a $35 million gap left after the state approved its final budget, but students like Creese stand to miss out on the benefits that the Saturday programming offered.

Creese, a rising senior, said Saturday school was very useful because “you have a better chance of understanding the material (learned in classes over the week) and you are able to have a one on one with the teacher.”

Creese added that she looked forward to field trips, which included visits to local colleges and universities like Drexel, University of Pennsylvania, and Temple and cultural sites like the art museum. Both Jones and Creese noted that students faced no consequences for skipping the Saturday sessions. Yet, there were several ways staff tried to persuade students to come.

They said that faculty used rallies and announcements to get the word out about Saturday school. Jones said one incentive was that students could receive their TransPasses on Saturday if they came to class. But rather than attend, she would wait until Monday to retrieve her bus pass.

Creese mentioned that over the school week, faculty would advertise trips or parties that would be held on Saturdays. Still, Creese mentioned that in the sessions she attended – which were all but two - there was not a large showing.

“About 30 percent would come” she estimated.

“Some students don’t want to come to Saturday school because they’d rather hang with their friends,” she said.

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Comments (6)

Submitted by I Teach in Philly (not verified) on August 8, 2011 2:33 pm

PROMISE Academy. Promises were made by students, staff and faculty.

There's a good reason these kids are in a Promise Academy: they aren't learning, won't do what needs to be done and apparently don't care.

Money and valuable resources are being poured into these schools (at the expense of others!) and these kids don't follow through like they should???

Don't blame the teachers when students decide to sleep or "hang with their friends" on Saturday. Where are the parents?

A student should be transferred out of the school as soon as he/she breaks the promise to adhere to PA expectations.

What is it we see on our emails from Ms Cliatt-Wayman "Proud. Efficient. Accountable"

Too bad no one holds students or parents accountable.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 9, 2011 9:27 am

The attendance at Promise Academies was bolstered by the special education students who were transported to the school in yellow school buses. High school attendance for the last session = 10% for students who did not get the school bus ride!

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on August 9, 2011 10:56 am

Thank you for this information. This is another example of how the Ackerman administration manipulates data to her benefit.

Submitted by I Teach in Philly (not verified) on August 8, 2011 2:27 pm

PROMISE Academy. Promises were made by students, staff and faculty.

There's a good reason these kids are in a Promise Academy: they aren't learning. Now we see part of the problem: they won't do what needs to be done and apparently don't care.

Money and valuable resources are being poured into these schools (at the expense of others!) and these kids don't follow through like they should???

Don't blame the teachers when students decide to sleep or "hang with their friends" on Saturday. Where are the parents?

A student should be transferred out of the school as soon as he/she breaks the promise to adhere to PA expectations. That’s what happens at the charter schools.

What is it we see on our emails from Ms Cliatt-Wayman "Proud. Efficient. Accountable"

Too bad no one holds students or parents accountable.

Submitted by Promise Academy Teacher (not verified) on August 14, 2011 10:36 pm

As a teacher at one of these schools, I can tell you first hand that Saturday School was quite simply not valuable to all students. Despite best efforts by many teachers, the sessions were disorganized and were not a good use of time or money. At one point we were forced to teach from a program that was the sorriest excuse for a curriculum that I've ever seen. It's hard to get kids to come to something that they know is a waste of their time and is not actually helping them learn. For some students sometimes, the extra day was helpful. But that was not the case for every student.

Be careful when commenting on something you don't have first-hand knowledge of. You're accusing our students and parents of being neglectful of their responsibilities, which may be true for some, but is not evidenced in the low attendance at Saturday school. All that the attendance shows is our failure to provide something meaningful with that extra time and money.

Submitted by I Teach in Philly (not verified) on August 19, 2011 8:29 am

I disagree. When parents promise to abide by the conditions set down by the school, they teach their children important lessons in commitment and following through.

Instead the students learn that it's ok to not stick with something and just do whatever feels good at the moment. Notice the alternatives the kids mentioned were hanging with friends or sleeping. What kind of life choices are these? And how could parents let their kids get away with it when so much is at stake?

If things were pointless at school (as you say) then they should speak up and get something better. Or how about this idea: take some initiative and go to a museum, the library or work on something educational???

Excusing kids and parents for taking the easy way sets them up for a lifetime of wondering why they can't get a good job or college education. It's because they never learned that effort is what pays off.

That attitude steals from the rest of the district, where so many kids would be glad to have the resources the PA kids carelessly toss aside.

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