You don’t have to be a parent to take an interest in Philadelphia schools. You just have to be a citizen of Philadelphia. Good schools affect everything: who moves here, who leaves, how your business grows, who lives in your neighborhood, what your house is worth—not to mention how healthy and vibrant your fellow (young) citizens are.
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In Your Neighborhood
- Join your local “Friends of” group. Use the Philadelphia School District School Finder tool to find your neighborhood school. Then, check Philly School News’ ever-expanding list of Friends groups to see if yours is listed. If not, try your local civic association, which may have an education committee. Otherwise, call the school for info.
- Create your own “Friends of” group. The Crosstown Coalition, a group of local civic associations, has developed a “Friends of Starter Kit,” a comprehensive guide by experienced school group leaders on how to navigate your local school, the District, and the neighborhood to ensure your group is successful. The first thing they’ll say: Make sure you are working with the school principal, not around her. (Read more about the Crosstown Coalition.)
- Join the Parents Association. Have a child in a local public or charter school? Become one of the heroes who keeps the place running and getting better. In some schools, parents associations are the reasons students get playround equipment, or new workbooks, or Spanish class. They organize fundraisers, volunteer in the building, help principals with community outreach and participate in teacher appreciation events.
- Join a School Advisory Council. Have a Renaissance school in your neighborhood? Become a part of the SAC, school/parent/community groups intended to monitor and integrate the neighborhood charter school into the community.
- Volunteer. The funding crisis has left many schools short on non-teacher positions like lunchtime aides, police officers, and hallway monitors. Community volunteers can help shoulder those tasks, and they are crucial! For example, enthusiastic volunteers can act as mentors, reading tutors, and yard monitors to make recess safer and more fun.
You will need up to date background clearances before you can spend time in schools. Your local Friends of group may have streamlined the process for neighborhood residents. If not, the state this year is footing the bill on two of the three necessary clearances; the other, an FBI check, is necessary if you have lived in Pennsylvania for fewer than 10 years. (Clearances are only necessary if you plan to have sustained and regular contact with children, not for one-time events.)
- Donate supplies to your local school. Contact the school’s main office, or Friends of group, to find out what they need most—paper? Red folders? Notebooks? Then start a neighborhood or office drive (or pick some up next time you’re at Staples).
- Hold a fundraiser. The best fundraisers partner with existing organizations that serve the school population, like the school itself or a community group that already provides a service. Call the school principal to brainstorm ideas.
- Adopt a school. Own a business? Ask the District’s Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) how you can help. The OSP is the School District’s clearinghouse for volunteering and partnerships in neighborhood schools. Its “Support-Our-Schools” pilot program connects schools with potential donors—individuals, organizations, or businesses. So far, the biggest SOS supporters are Starr Restaurant Group and the Philadelphia Bar Association, which together have donated $225,000 to local school programs. To get started, fill out a Support-Our-Schools Donor Interest Form.
- Donate to non-profits that support schools. The OSP’s website has a partial list of organizations—such as Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia Futures, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters—that have ongoing partnerships with Philly schools; contact them for a complete list. Most are nonprofits that will happily accept your donations—or your services as a volunteer.
- Donate to Teachers. Teachers at various schools around the city use DonorsChoose to crowdfund small, classroom projects, like stocking a library. You can select projects by school name, or by passion—art, or books, or language. PhilaSoup similarly funds teacher projects through quarterly events that are also teacher networking opportunities.
- Join (or support) PhillyCORE Leaders, a coalition of young Philadelphians of varying backgrounds, politics and affiliations dedicated to working together to improve Philly schools.
- Volunteer for out-of-school education and youth organizations. You don’t have to volunteer directly in a school to help kids in Philly! Both SERVEPhiladelphia and United Way provide education-related volunteer opportunities all around town.
- Attend a School Reform Commission meeting. The SRC—the five-member oversight board of the School District—meets every month at 440 North Broad Street. Find a schedule of meetings here, as well as (when they post them) related agendas and documents. To speak at the monthly meeting, you must register by 4:30 pm the previous day.
- Contact state officials. Want more charter schools in Pennsylvania? Want fewer? Think we should have a fair funding formula, like almost every other state in the country? Think we need more funding, more oversight, fewer tests? Tell your elected officials. You may want to focus your efforts at the state-level electeds, as City Council and federal officials have limited influence on the District’s budget.
- Stay informed. Philly School News, public school mom Lauren Summers’ Facebook page, has become the place for sharing resources, information and shout-outs about local District-run schools, as well as to read news culled from around the web. The Notebook has been covering Philly education for 20 years. Also check out the latest news from Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth and the Philadelphia Schools Partnerships—advocacy groups often seen as opposing sides of the District-charter debate. And of course, follow The Philadelphia Citizen on Twitter and Facebook to be up to date on all the latest innovative approaches to education.
- Donate books, or money, to open libraries in the many city schools that don’t have functioning, staffed libraries. Give to: West Philadelphia Alliance for Children, which has reopened—and staffs—13 school libraries serving 4,000 students in West and Southwest Philly, which also needs library volunteers; PHILADELPHIA READS‘ book bank; or the Eagles Book Mobile.
- Sign up for Amazon Smiles, and donate a portion of your purchase to a local school or school project, including those at KIPP or Boys’ Latin Charter School.
Header photo via Wikimedia Commons