February 9 — 1:24 pm, 2010

Students organizing at Sayre stalled by lack of sponsor

Students at Sayre High School say their chapter of the Philadelphia Student Union is being left out in the cold because they don’t have a teacher to sponsor them.

School officials say that the Student Union cannot use school classrooms without having a teacher to supervise and serve as an official “advisor.” That’s a reversal of policy from last year, when the Student Union met on campus weekly, reportedly building a membership of about 100 students and organizing a successful campaign on school climate issues.

“If they can get an advisor, they are welcome to meet,” said Sayre Principal Gayle Daniels.

But Anthony Robinson, a sophomore and member of the Sayre chapter’s leadership team, said it’s been a struggle to find an adult willing to support their group.

“We found a couple of sponsors, but before we met with [principal Daniels], they changed their minds,” he said.

“I don’t know what happened.”

Robinson says the Sayre chapter remains anxious to organize.

Sayre made headlines last September after a scuffle between students and school police escalated into a series of fights throughout the school. Dozens of police arrived to enforce a school-wide “lockdown,” and 20 students were arrested.

“It was chaos,” recalled Robinson.

But it was also an organizing opportunity. The Student Union moved quickly to help launch meetings between students and guards, and they say it improved relationships.

“They told us their problems and we told them ours,” he said.

“They said they were underpaid and being disrespected by students. We can’t do anything about them being underpaid. But we could talk to our friends about respecting the guards.”

The Sayre chapter also got involved with a mentoring program that paired younger Sayre students with juniors and seniors. 

Robinson said the atmosphere at Sayre has improved significantly since last September’s melee, but he thinks the Student Union could do more to help if it was able to meet on campus.

Meanwhile, Daniels said all students are welcome at the school’s monthly safety meetings, where they can share their concerns with parents, teachers, guards, and local community groups.

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