Students at McClure Elementary in hunting Park participated in the Literacy Day Parade in October to celebrate reading and promote literacy in the community. Classes chose their favorite books, and created costumes, props, and reading responses to illustrate their selections. Then students paraded around the school yard, showing off their visual presentations. This class wore mustaches, white shirts, and red bibs, and held umbrellas to represent the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
After spending an evening bundled up around a campfire, singing familiar songs and telling stories, we came back to our bunk, shared our “highs” and “lows” of the day with our counselor and bunkmates and began to get ready for bed. We had just inched into our sleeping bags, lazily swatted away another pesky mosquito, and yawned through our last “goodnights,” when our counselor crept back into our bunk.
“Listen close!” he whispered. Through our squinted eyes we saw him motioning for us to lean in. “At midnight,” he said very seriously, “you will be embarking on an adventure—just the four of you. No one else knows, not even the other counselors.” All of a sudden, we weren’t feeling so tired. “I’m leaving these envelopes here. Each one contains a clue. I’ll be by the campfire if you absolutely need me. You must not be seen. Don’t open the first envelope until exactly midnight!” With that, he slid back through the door just as softly as he had come in.
High school needs to be fun and welcoming, a place where students feel valued by caring adults and engaged by interesting coursework that they can see will prepare them for a future.
But, too often, high schools – especially large, neighborhood institutions – can be places where students get lost, ignored, and bored.
“I really think that a lot of times schools have become more like penal colonies,” said Linda Carroll, principal of 3,000-student Northeast High School. “So I think we have to do some work around that – making schools inviting for kids.”
For this edition on student engagement, the Notebook convened a group of six educators from three of the city’s neighborhood high schools that have had relative success in maintaining attendance and graduation rates. They had a 90-minute dialogue on what they do to keep students in school.
In Steve Grosso’s spacious, well-equipped computer lab at South Philadelphia High School, students in a Computer Repair and Networking class are learning how to diagnose and repair every aspect of a desktop PC’s hardware and operating systems.
A few floors below, their classmates in John Evans’ engineering class are using computer-assisted design programs and trigonometry calculations to come up with a plan for reconfiguring the stormwater drainage system at Southern, a real-life application of their academic work. A 3D printer is the latest industrial tool at their disposal, to help them raise their design skills to a new level.
Southern’s career and technical education (CTE) programs have expanded this year, and many participating students are enthusiastic about their future job prospects and engaged in their course work.
Facing a $300 million budget shortfall last spring, local leaders called for a rescue package – asking the city and state for $180 million in additional recurring revenue and the unions for $133 million in labor savings.
But there is not much to show for it. The District has gotten little recurring revenue besides $28 million from improved local tax collections. On the labor savings, they have nothing: Negotiations with teachers’ and principals’ unions plodded on into February without a settlement.
As three young men who once dropped out share their stories, Nasir Mack hears what could lie in store for his friends – or himself.
One former student left school after butting heads with the deans. Another needed academic help but didn’t get it. A third just didn’t show up.
Despite individual obstacles, all three graduated from Congreso’s GED program in North Philadelphia – but not before spending months out of school. Their stories bear the hallmarks of teenage life: confusion, frustration, big decisions, painful realizations – and in their cases, learning, success and growth. They came to the Philadelphia Youth Network to talk about their journeys and help the Notebook explore the kinds of experiences that lie behind students’ familiar complaints.