A hands-on approach to educational change
Profile of Eileen Abrams, Notebook member
by Avi Wolfman-Arent
Eileen Abrams hopes the Notebook someday puts her out of a job.
The instructor at Community College of Philadelphia teaches remedial English to incoming freshman. Her students, most of them from Philadelphia public schools, lack the basic competencies that college coursework requires.
"It's so painful for me to see students come out of high school unprepared," Abrams says.
Yet she's optimistic future generations of college-goers will be ready for postsecondary studies, due in part to the impact that the Notebook is having on the educational issues that it covers in its print edition and on the web.
"The paper is really working … toward a better educational future in this city," Abrams says.
With that goal in mind, Abrams began volunteering as a fact-checker and copy editor for the Notebook's print edition over a decade ago. She has since devoted countless hours to helping to edit and proofread reams of page proofs.
She fondly recalls spending long afternoons at Notebook headquarters poring over data, sometimes in pursuit of just a few wayward digits.
"I have a small bit part, but I know that bit is important," Abrams says.
Abrams speaks of the paper like one would a family member. She revels in its growth and marvels at its transformation from upstart to "established organization in the city."
Abrams became a Notebook subscriber in 2000 and she served as an advisory board member from 2000 to 2006. She's signed up as a dues-paying member.
"It was just sort of a no-brainer for me. You support an organization financially whose mission you believe in," Abrams says.
Her connection to Philadelphia public education spans a half-century, beginning with her days at Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. The affirming and comprehensive learning experience that she got from what she describes as her "plain old neighborhood high school" drives her commitment to education.
"Maybe it's just my silly belief in the American dream, but I believe education can help people pull themselves out of ignorance and poverty," Abrams says.
After graduating from Overbook in 1965, Abrams enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first in her family to attend college. She graduated in 1969 with a bachelor's in English.
In 1971, Abrams joined the School District of Philadelphia as an English instructor, and in 1976 she earned a secondary teaching certificate from LaSalle University. Abrams has been an active advocate for quality schools as a teacher, professor, and nonprofit professional.
"Teaching has always come naturally to me. It's always been important," Abrams says.
From her experience in the field, she recognizes the critical role the Notebook plays in improving educational opportunities. In particular, she cites the need for in-depth coverage rather than tabloid-style headlines.
"In this age of sound-bite journalism, that attention to detail … is more important than ever," Abrams stresses.
To illustrate, she points to the Notebook's 2011 edition on the dropout crisis – a collection of articles that Abrams says reflects the value and penetrating depth of Notebook reporting.
"It was practical information people could use," Abrams recalls.
"The way [the Notebook] contextualizes things is always in a larger political frame."
For someone of Abrams' ilk—compassionate, motivated, and deeply ensconced in the world of education—the stories of students pushed out and left behind by the public schools strikes an emotional chord.
"My heart breaks when a kid wants an education and is in a place where it's really hard to get." Abrams laments. "It shouldn't be hard to get."
But those same stories also reaffirm for Abrams the importance of the Notebook's role in making a better future.
"[The Notebook's job is] reminding people that it's possible, reminding people that everyone's voice counts."