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Week 14: Jason Kelce’s Eagles Education Season

Each week this season, the Super Bowl-winning offensive lineman compares Philly schools to those of our on-field competitors—and celebrates a local education innovation. This week, he looks at New York City

New York City might be one of the most diverse cities in the world, but right now there’s a debate raging there about what a poor job the school district, the largest in the country, is doing to make sure its schools reflect that diversity.

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Growing up, my brother and I benefited so much from going to a diverse public high school. I learned how to listen to viewpoints that are different from mine, and how to get along and communicate with people from all walks of life.

I think diversity goes beyond race, or socioeconomic status. Students are different in so many ways, including what their home lives are like, and what kinds of personal challenges they’ve had to face.

That’s why I find it heartwarming to hear about Philly schools that go beyond one-site-fits-all education, and really rethink learning in a way that helps students carve out more opportunities for their future.

Big Picture and its schools recognize that students are not cookie-cutter robots, and that for education to truly celebrate diversity, it can no longer expect every student to fit into the same mold.

One school in particular that inspires me is El Centro de Estudiantes in Frankford. And a great window into what makes El Centro so special is its graduation day.

Unlike many traditional high school graduations where hundreds of kids sit in the sun on the football field while their extended families pack the bleachers and local hotshots give speeches, graduation at El Centro—where 79 percent of students graduated last spring—is deeply intimate. Every student is recognized for the obstacles they’ve overcome, the sacrifices they’ve made and the resilience and commitment they’ve shown.

That’s because students at El Centro aren’t your typical on-track teens: They’re students who, for any number of reasons, have fallen through the cracks in our education system, and are typically over-age or under-credited. But El Centro welcomes them back. Their team works with students to meet them where they are and come up with individualized courses of study—and the extra support they need—to get them a high school diploma.

Overcrowded schools, high teacher turnover and a reliance on harsh punitive measures, the El Centro leadership team explains, not only makes it hard to learn for a lot of students, but can manifest educational trauma. “We are therefore committed to trauma-informed practices in our classrooms and throughout the building,” says Stephanie Contreras, the school’s director of Counseling Resiliency Services.

Given that many El Centro students have been directly impacted by violence, the first thing the school stresses is safety. “We facilitate their healing with teachers who know that trauma impacts education, a climate team who address conflict through restorative practices, and resiliency specialists who validate their experiences and equip them with the skills to self-soothe, self-regulate and self-determine,” says Mari Morales-Williams, director of Climate and Culture.

The school is a program of Big Picture Philadelphia, a nonprofit that strives to transform the lives of Philly students; they also run another awesome school, Vaux Big Picture High School in Sharswood, that has at its core an emphasis on real-world experience, and pairs students with internships and jobs throughout Philly.

Big Picture and its schools recognize that students are not cookie-cutter robots, and that for education to truly celebrate diversity, it can no longer expect every student to fit into the same mold.

“We love this place, and we’re challenged and rewarded every day,” says principal Lydia Gonzales.

Next week, we head to Washington, and I’ll tell you about a teen who’s sharing her love of reading in a smart and meaningful way.



Philadelphia

Eagles

New York

Jets

# of students

203,225

# of students

1,135,334

% graduated high school

72

% graduated high school

76

% population with a BA

26

% population with a BA

37

$ per pupil

15,000

$ per pupil

20,000

% students economically disadvantaged

73

% students economically disadvantaged

74

% students of color of

86

% students of color of

85

% teachers of color

31

% teachers of color

39

% students in charter schools

34

% students in charter schools

39

% special education students

15

% special education students

20

% English language learners

12

% English language learners

14


Philly Sources: All from School District of Philadelphia except % with a BA from here, and $ per pupil here.

New York City Sources: All stats provided by the New York City Department of Education except % with a BA from here, $ per pupil here, and % teachers of color here. 

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