In many ways, we are on the upswing in this city—at least education-wise. That means we have a chance to really make a difference in encouraging better learning and increasing the odds for success for the thousands of young people who are back in school. You don’t need to be a teacher, or a parent, to affect the lives of Philly students. You just need to care about your city (though we have some great back to school tips specifically for students, too).
Here are some ways you can help schools in Philadelphia this year:
1. CALL YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL, AND ASK WHAT HELP THEY NEED.
Don’t assume you know. It might be volunteering; it might be supplies. It might be that they tell you to call back in a month when they have time to breathe. Principals are often overwhelmed, but the good ones also know how to accept help. Find your local school here.
2. DRESS DOWN FOR SCHOOLS.
Real estate developer The Goldenberg Group has joined the nonprofit Fund for the School District of Philadelphia in calling for donations and in raising awareness of school needs. Click here to select a school, and a project. Donate at least $35, and they’ll send you a shirt to wear on September 14th as part of Dress Down for Philly Public Schools day. If you have a company, consider making a larger donation and distributing shirts to your staff to wear on the 14th, sending an army of school supporters out in to the streets.
3. ADVOCATE FOR HEALTHY SCHOOLS.
Thanks to the massive investigation by The Inquirer, everyone now knows just how toxic many Philly schools are—and the state, city and School District have stepped up efforts to clean them up. There is still a LOT of work to do, though. Make sure they keep at it. Follow Philly Healthy Schools Initiative for the latest info and calls to action, demand the city and state work to keep our kids healthy in school.
4. ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO VOTE.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in registration in the under-30 crowd. Let’s keep that going, by registering as many young people as possible—and encouraging them to vote. Join #VoteThatJawn, an effort by The Citizen and several partners to help youth get out the vote among their peers and other first-time voters. Because the earlier you vote, the more likely you are to keep voting.
5. KEEP TABS ON THE (BRAND NEW THIS YEAR!) SCHOOL BOARD.
Philadelphians agitated for a local school board beholden to Philadelphians, and got their way last year, when Mayor Kenney appointed his first nine members, who started work this summer. Is anyone paying attention to them? Attend what the board calls “action” meetings each month to find out what’s happening district-wide, have your say on decisions being made, and judge how the group—and by extension the Mayor—is doing.
6. DONATE TO TEACHERS’ CLASSROOM PROJECTS.
Teachers spend several hundred dollars a year out of their own pockets to decorate and stock their classrooms. But sometimes even that isn’t enough. At crowdfunding site DonorsChoose, teachers upload the supplies they need for classroom projects— everything from books on tolerance, to science kits, to special needs activities. As of today, you can select from more than 729 Philadelphia projects, catalogued by type of school, subject matter, cost, and age group. Or, donate in person at a PhilaSoup event, a quarterly soup dinner in which teachers pitch their projects and are awarded monetary prizes based on how many folks show up.
7. HELP KIDS READ.
Around 130 partners have signed on to the city’s Read By 4th initiative, a citywide effort led by The Free Library to ensure students are reading at grade level by 4th grade. (Research has shown that is a critical point for future academic success.) There are tons of ways you can help, from becoming a Reading Captain for your block, to setting up a Book Nook in your shop, to volunteering with one of several organizations that are tutoring kids. You can also donate books to Philadelphia Reads, or to your local school, depending on their need.
8. JOIN YOUR CHILD’S HOME AND SCHOOL ASSOCIATION.
Don’t discount the value you can bring to your child’s school, just by showing up. They’ll put you to work, for sure.
9. JOIN A “FRIENDS OF” GROUP FOR YOUR NEARBY SCHOOL.
Friends of groups are for anyone in the community (not just parents) who’s interested in supporting their school. You might find your local organization on the Friends of Neighborhood Education’s three-year-old schools directory. Don’t see your neighborhood school on the list? Contact them to get connected, or check out FONE’s guide to starting a Friends of group yourself.
10. CLEAN UP THE SIDEWALKS.
At some schools, principals take time every day to pick up outside their walls—everything from chip bags to discarded needles. Make the morning walk to school a pleasant one for everyone—and teach good habits at the same time.
11. SUPPORT EFFORTS TO RECRUIT MORE BLACK MALE TEACHERS.
Mastery Shoemaker principal and Citizen contributor Sharif El-Mekki is leading the charge to bring 1,000 black male teachers to city classrooms by 2025, through Black Male Educators for Social Justice. Learn how you can help.
12. CREATE SAFE ROUTES.
Watch out for kids walking to and from school. Join WalkSafePhl, to officially register as a school safe corridor volunteer, and the city will send you a special vest so kids can identify you if they need help.
This one is SO easy: Simply put out your recycling every week—which clearly you already do—and earn points, which you can turn into a donation for local schools. Check here for projects, updated throughout the year.
14. BE INFORMED—AND EMPATHETIC.
Not all charter schools are bad; not all traditional publics are scary. Look beyond the screaming to what’s really there. Visit your neighborhood school before deciding to move away. Attend charter school open houses to see what’s the best fit for your child. And remember: The best choice for you, in your neighborhood, may not be the best choice for someone else, in their neighborhood, right now. It really isn’t a one-size-fits-all model in Philly.
15. LISTEN TO STUDENTS.
Literally, through the podcast from Philadelphia Young Playwrights, a series of stories written by teenagers about teenagers. Or check out the New Teacher Handbook some School District interns put together this summer to get a glimpse into what concerns them in school. But also hear them when they stand up for the things that matter to them: Gun violence. City services. Police interaction. Voting. These kids, they’re pretty outstanding.
16. HOLD COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS.
These are hard times in America, and in Philadelphia, where we have a responsibility to create thoughtful, empathetic, tolerant and civic-minded citizens. All of this has to be taught; otherwise, we’ll be no better off when this generation grows up. Local education nonprofit Peace Praxis offers curricula for every age group on teaching empathy; the Anti-Defamation League created this guide for teachers—but also applicable to parents—on talking about race. And children’s book author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich put together a great list for building a diverse bookshelf. These are all great jumping-off-points.
Want better charter school legislation? Want fairer funding formulas? Think more money should flow to city schools? Then get to Harrisburg, or at least call your state legislators, so they know what you think.
18. SUPPORT THE FREE LIBRARY.
The Free Library provides after school tutoring, literacy training and branches with free WiFi for students throughout the school district. Click here to give.
19. DO YOU OWN A BUSINESS?
Offer services, products or gift cards for auctions at a local school. Or, encourage your employees to donate time—by giving them time off during the day to help out. Not only will the school appreciate the consistent, focused effort, your employees will too.
20. VOLUNTEER TO HELP WITH AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES.
And take your children with you. Their learning really does begin with you.