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Week 6: 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 Minneapolis

You’ve heard me say before that there are few places as diverse as an NFL locker room. And you already know that I think diversity is always a win, because it helps everyone understand and communicate with people who may have different backgrounds or points-of-view.

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That’s why I love hearing that in Minneapolis, where we’ll be playing the Minnesota Vikings this weekend, there are welcoming schools like Wellstone International High that serve immigrant students for whom English is a second language.

Here in Philly, I’m inspired by Daniel Peou, the principal at Horace Furness High School on South 3rd Street.

When Peou moved to South Philly from Cambodia when he was 13, neither he nor his parents knew a word of English. He hadn’t received any formal education in Cambodia, because he’d been in labor camps.

Once in Philly, he endured brutal bullying every day—from being spit on to being beat up. He spent a full year at a school with so little ESL programming that he had no idea what was going on—and had no way of communicating how badly he was being attacked.

Then, he transferred to Horace Furness, at the time a junior high school. “There, I blossomed,” he says. He learned the language, and found other immigrant students who could relate to his experiences. There was still pervasive racial tension in the city, Peou says, but his friends found safety and camaraderie eating lunch together in the classroom of his ESL teacher, far from cafeteria bullies.

From there, it was on to South Philly High School, from which Peou ultimately graduated. He planned to go to technical school to become an auto mechanic, but his ESL teacher had other plans. “She insisted I apply to Temple. I never thought I was college materialI wasn’t rich enough or smart enough,” Peou says. “She insisted I was wrong.”

After starting and then stopping college to help his family make ends meet, Peou eventually got his masters degree and a job in the School District of Philadelphia headquarters. From there, it was on to teacher roles and then admin ones and then, ultimately, the principal position at none other than Furness, now a high school. Only this time, Furness, with dwindling enrollment, was facing possible closure.

Peou couldn’t let that happen. “Furness was home,” he says. He rallied hundreds of students to show up at an integral meeting with signsSave Furness! Save Furness!and convinced the district, where Dr. William Hite had just taken on the superintendent role, to keep it open.

Now, enrollment is at more than 750, with a mostly immigrant and refugee student body. The school has students from more than 30 different countries who speak more than 20 languages. Students get the classes they need, and their families also get support through family ESL classes.

“Once you come to Furness, you’re part of the family. And everybody gets along very well. I always have an open-door policy. They see me every day,” says Peou. He knows what they’ve gone through and are going through, and he wants them to see all that they can be.

Looking ahead, Peou dreams of being able to partner with a technical program, to be able to offer his students hands-on training in life skills that can lead to employment that will help their language improve, and bolster their confidence to apply to college thereafter.

He says that even more than financial support, what immigrant and refugee students need is encouragement.

“I would say the one thing that people need to focus on is turning off the judgement. Don’t make judgements. These children, who are walking the same path as I did, they have goals, they have dreams, they want to better their lives just like everyone else. They want to be productive citizens. They want to be the people who make this country great,” says Peou.

I say it’s up to all of us to team together and make that happen.

Next week, we’re heading to Dallas, and I’ll tell you about an amazing new program coming out of our very own National Constitution Center.

PS: If you’ve been paying close attention to our charts, you’ll notice that the numbers for Philly are once again different this time; that’s because, this week, we’re focusing solely on traditional public schools and not charter schools. In Minneapolis, charters are operated independently, and not as part of the district.



Philadelphia

Eagles

Minnesota

Vikings

# of students in traditional public schools

128,102

# of students in traditional public schools

35,674

% graduated high school

69

% graduated high school

69

% population with a BA

26

% population with a BA

48

$ per pupil

15,000

$ per pupil

13,976

% students economically disadvantaged

73

% students economically disadvantaged

57

% students of color

86

% students of color

64

% special education students

15

% special education students

17

% english language learners

12

% english language learners

21


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

Minnesota Sources: All stats from Minneapolis Public Schools, except for % of population with a BA here and budget per pupil here.

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