In Philadelphia, a student’s education outcome can differ wildly depending on which high school they attend. The disparity between well-resourced magnet schools and overcrowded public schools is a chasm, but it’s one that is not delineated among city lines or even city blocks. In fact, for a pair of two schools: Science Leadership Academy and Ben Franklin High School, a singular wall separates two schools and broadly, two realities of the high school experience.
Last spring, Student Voice hosted a local roundtable with UrbEd, a student-run, nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality and efficiency of urban education.
While the roundtable included students—both high school and college—from across the Philadelphia area, we were quickly immersed in the question of consolidation between the two high schools and the common pitfalls of the SLA and Franklin Experience. Despite the wall that separated these two schools, the feelings of inaccessibility, harassment, and frustration with the status quo transcended.
Like all of our other roundtables, we started with the question, “What is one thing that happens in your school that adults don’t know about?”
The most striking story came from Luronda Fuller, a rising freshman in college, who spent her academic career transitioning from a charter school to a public school to a predominantly white private school. While the adults in her school simply saw her as a struggling student who was often late, they willfully ignored the often-delayed commute that made her late and the crippling cognitive dissonance that came with frequently switching school environments. The student on paper was dramatically different than the student who came from Kensington, desperate for guidance.
The manifestations of this lack of attention lead to addiction, bullying, and a disjointed school culture. At Luronda’s public school, one student who was grieving the loss of her father turned to bullying, a desperate attempt to get counseling. For students who turn to drugs, the only treatment available to them is a suspension.
These suspensions don’t cure isolation, Wes, a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, recounted. They burden a struggling student and accrue towards expulsion.
From the intense Science Leadership Academy to West Chester University, every student agreed that they weren’t being heard by their administration. SLA’s administration has enforced stringent curfews and prioritized high test scores. The overcrowded Franklin High School has struggled to help students reach for college.
At West Chester, Anaya, a rising junior, has struggled with professor complacency and unaffordability. There is a palpable student voice, but the school board and administrations aren’t choosing to listen.
Despite the glass wall that may stand between Franklin and SLA and the broader divisions of Philadelphia schools, students across the city are united in their quest for a more equitable and responsive education. They are conscious of the problems and more importantly, conscious of the solutions.
Hundreds of years ago, our country was forged by revolution in Philadelphia. Now, a new revolution has been born: one to empower students and reinvigorate public schools.