Just Like Me

Every now and again, we wonder whether we made the right decision with respect to pulling the kids out of private school and opting, instead, for public school in Philadelphia. I usually start wondering that about now, when our mail is filled with brochures advertising the very schools we considered and ultimately passed over: the various Friends schools, the Baldwin School, Miquon, a handful of charter schools and more.

There was no magic in our decision to go public. We did struggle a lot with the idea, though. We were very aware that the decision that we were making was final, at least for us. It was highly unlikely, we knew, that we would make the decision and then turn back. So we researched our options pretty thoroughly. I even did the Open House circuit, standing around at private schools with a visitor sticker on my shirt, trying to drink in the almost college admission-like atmosphere. And as intrigued as we were by many of the schools, none of them had exactly the feel that we wanted.

What's particularly odd, and this has been confirmed with the slew of new admissions materials arriving this year, is the lack of diversity at many (not all) of these schools. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in diversity for diversity's sake - and I certainly don't believe in forcing it. But I live in the City. By its very nature, it is diverse. There are all different cultures, races, religions and socio-economic classes. It is exactly part of the appeal of living here. That's why it is perplexing to me that many of these schools are awash in upper middle class to upper class white kids - even those in the City.

I know, some of it is economics. But it's weird to me that there's any appeal in it nonetheless to City parents. Not the schools, I get that they're good schools. But much of education, especially at the elementary school level, is learning about the world around you. And most people don't live in that kind of shielded, homogenous world - we certainly don't.

I'll make no secret about the fact that I am both white and middle class. My kids are dressed well, we are well educated and we do okay. But I can't imagine limiting the world that my children sees to those who are exactly like them. That's not real life.

Of course, neither is the other end of the spectrum. We didn't opt to be "urban pioneers" and throw our kids in a school filled with kids who were wildly dissimilar either. My children do not attend a school that is majority African-American or Hispanic/Latino. Neither do they attend a school where they stand out as the wealthiest kids in a sea of disadvantaged kids. I don't think that's real life either.

It was all about finding balance. And we found it. We found it in our neighborhood school. The school's composition is racially diverse. Economics range from kids who rely on free lunches to those whose parents are doctors and business owners. The kids play different sports, attend a wide range of after school programs and have a variety interests. There is no sense of "sameness" (outside of school uniforms) - forced or otherwise.

When I look at the kids that my kids go to school with, for the most part, I'm really comforted that it's an environment that's both realistic and safe. That makes the answer to my question pretty easy. Did we make the right decision? We did.


Schools Closed on Friday, February 26

Due to the inclement weather, all School District of Philadelphia schools are closed on Friday, February 26. All administrative and regional offices will open two hours late.

Also, all District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers are closed, and all after-school activities are canceled. All sporting activities will be rescheduled.

Should any updates occur, they will be posted at www.philasd.org and may also be obtained by calling 215-400-INFO (4636).


No School on February 25

According to the Inquirer, there will be no school on tomorrow.

The kids will be thrilled. Me? Not so much. I'm worried about making all of these days up... I don't want to be sending the kids to school in July. :(


Flash Mob, the Gallery and Parenting

This week, Philadelphia schools made headlines for a most undesirable reason: flash mobs and violence at a Center City shopping mall (the Gallery). More than 150 kids were said to have been involved in the violence, which caused several hundred dollars worth of damage. As school officials gathered to talk about the incident, the press repeatedly pointed out the names of the schools that the kids attended (noting, for example, that eight of the fifteen arrested were from Simon Gratz High) and highlighted that expulsions from school might be in order.


No, that wasn't sarcasm. It was genuine surprise. I'm perplexed as to why expulsion is even on the table.

In the suburbs, your kid gets on a bus from the school parking lot and travels home, more or less. Or, if they're a little older, they drive home. But in the City, your route home (because of the wonky system of "school choice" which is another issue altogether) can be a series of buses, trolleys and subways. The likelihood of something going wrong, including getting into trouble, is a bit higher. And I realize that from a legal perspective, we've decided as a society that the schools should be held accountable for the safety of our children until they get home... But is that realistic? Or fair?

I'm not sure that it's the school's responsibility in all of this to ensure that this kids don't get into trouble after they're a certain distance from the school. And while I don't profess to know what that magic distance should be, I feel comfortable saying that Nicetown to Center City qualifies.

In all of the coverage surrounding this mess, I've heard from the police, from the School District, from store managers - and in the Inquirer, even from the kids themselves. Anyone else notice a rather important omission? Where are the parents?

I know that parents can't be expected to be around all of the time. I'm a working mom, I get it. But I am really surprised - and thoroughly disappointed - at the apparent lack of parental intervention in any of this. Parenting matters. Period.

I realize that not all families are created equal. And I am not so naive to believe that each of these children come from perfect homes (as if there were any such thing in the first place). But I am also not so jaded as to believe that we should accept any of that as an excuse.

Parents have a fundamental responsibility to be involved in their kid's lives and that includes times when the parents are not around. One of the things that I've been struck by at my kids' school is how involved the parents are. And it's not a group of latte moms around a table. I see moms and dads, as well as grandparents (!), from all walks of life getting involved. Whether it's painting over graffiti, baking for the school sale, playing coach or writing grants for more funds, parents make an effort to be a part of the school community. That means that they have some skin in the game - the success or failure of the school is tied to the parents.

It's easy to point fingers and say that not all schools are the same and that perhaps these kids involved in the melee at the Gallery are just different. But I think that sort of thinking is just an excuse to write these kids off. It somehow justifies the idea that we can kind of shake our heads and walk away because there's nothing we can do other than accept that they're going to do what they want to do. But that's just wrong. Kids are largely the same at heart. And they all, despite their circumstances, want love and acceptance, as well as rules and order. And it's clear that these kids don't have the latter: you don't get 150 kids that feel comfortable enough to terrorize a shopping mall without some sense of approval, tacit or otherwise.

All of that said, the burden of parenting these children should not be laid at the feet of the School District. The School District claims that:

The mission of the School District of Philadelphia is to provide a high-quality education that prepares, ensures, and empowers all students to achieve their full intellectual and social potential in order to become lifelong learners and productive members of society.

There are more than 160,000 public children that deserve the full attention and resources of the School District. Don't shortchange those children in order to resolve some kind of public relations issue with the City. Philadelphia school children are not bad and I don't appreciate the children at my school being labeled as trouble because a group of unruly kids felt emboldened to cause some trouble.

In fact, let's leave the schools out of the equation altogether. Would we be having the same conversation if these were a group of parochial school kids? Or a group of kids from Lower Merion? Wouldn't the police be dealing directly with their parents? And let's not forget that the whole mess was arranged allegedly not at school but on the internet - is the next step having the School District monitor the internet?

This should not be made into a Philadelphia School District problem. It's a problem with badly behaved kids outside of school. Expulsion isn't the answer - in fact, it likely creates more problems than it would solve.

Parents, not teachers, should be held accountable for the behavior of these children. The discussion about what to do should be between law enforcement, those students and their parents. Period. That leaves the School District to focus on education, not policing, after school hours.


School's Back in Session

School was back in session today after a week off due to snow - and President's Day - but mostly snow. The walk up was quite an experience. Notwithstanding the neighbors who remarkably felt that they didn't need to shovel despite the record snowfall totals, it was nice out. There's something both calming and exciting about snow all at the same time.

Unfortunately, the City did a pretty miserable job of clearing its own properties. The piles of snow around the school were huge and made it difficult to get everyone in on time. Supposedly, they're working on fixing it for tomorrow. We'll see.

Even with all of the chaos and piles of snow, I can't really complain. I was thankful not to have to get into the car and drive to school. If that had been the case, I would guess that my kids would have sat out a few more days of school. While it's true that the major roads around Philly are fine, the smaller streets (like the one that I live on) are still largely huge sheets of ice. I wouldn't put my kids in the car unless I had no other options - and thankfully, that wasn't our reality.

Instead, we piled on the snow gear and headed out the door. It was, I thought, a nice way to start the day.


The Official Word: School is Open Tomorrow

After a week of no school, school will be open tomorrow, February 16. This, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Schools Closed on Friday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be closed on Friday, February 12. Also, closed are all District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers, and all after-school activities are canceled. Administrative and regional offices will open at regular scheduled hours.

In addition, the School Reform Commission planning meeting, originally scheduled for February 10, will take place on Wednesday, February 17, and the action meeting, originally scheduled for February 17, will take place on Wednesday, February 24.

School Closed Again

School has been canceled for today - and rumor has it, canceled for tomorrow, Friday, February 12. I hope to confirm shortly.


Schools Closed on Wednesday

All School District of Philadelphia schools, Administrative Offices and Regional Offices will be CLOSED on Wednesday, February 10, 2010.

After-School Activities Canceled Due to Potential Snow

All School District of Philadelphia after-school activities, including all athletic programs, are canceled for Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

All District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers will remain open as per their regular schedule.


Schools Open on Tuesday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be OPEN on Tuesday, February 9, 2010, according to their regular schedule.


No School on Monday

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be CLOSED on Monday, February 8, 2010, due to this weekend's record snowfall in Philadelphia. All after-school activities and yellow school bus service are also canceled for Monday, February 8.

Administrative and regional offices will open two hours late.


School District Snow Cancellations

All School District after-school activities, including athletics, for Friday, February 5, are cancelled. All District Comprehensive Early Learning Centers will close early at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, February 5. District schools will dismiss at their regular scheduled times.

All weekend activities and programs, including professional development and athletics, for Saturday February 6 and Sunday February 7 are cancelled.


School Rankings

School rankings are out. You can download the results here.

My kids' school was ranked pretty well, which was good to see. I'm not sure that I understand the methodology, though, since a neighboring school which tends to test poorly ranked higher and the similar schools result was different. But it is what it is.

(Hat Tip: The Notebook)