Tag Archives: North Philadelphia

In the trenches

10 Jun

Following up on my earlier post about the School District’s layoffs, I thought I’d excerpt this stunner of a letter from one of those 3,800 laid-off employees.

Students standing in formation to spell out "PEACE"

Photo credit: Alice Heller

Good Morning, Sir,

I received my notice Saturday. I got it early in the morning, so it could stick in the back of my brain all weekend like a splinter in a finger….

The letter mentions to let someone at the School District of Philadelphia know if you are a veteran. I served honorably for 21 years in the Pennsylvania National Guard and have deployed twice in service to my country. I am honorably discharged and hold the status of retiree from the army….

I successfully completed the Troops to Teachers Program and I have been teaching in the District since January of 2009….

Since coming to the District, I found equipment when there was none, I created curriculum when there was nothing, I did without when we needed supplies….

For the last four years, I have struggled, alongside the most courageous and honorable people I have ever worked with, to teach the students, feed the students, clothe the students, protect the students, and lead the students….

I realize that there are always forces beyond my control, but know that if you break up our team at Crossroads, you will damage one of the few systems in the School District of Philadelphia that is actually working. We are strong because of the integration of our curriculum, the dedication of our small but determined band of educators, and because we have the proper leadership to carry us through.

I understand that every school and employee will claim the same, but we are truly different. If you break us up now, you will lose one small program that is making a profound impact on the fabric of our city.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Harvey Scribner
Teacher
​Crossroads Accelerated Academy at Elverson

Read the whole thing, as they say. (Note: I am the one who added the link in Mr. Scribner’s letter above — it goes to a prior article published in The Notebook about Crossroads Accelerated Academy, where he teaches.)

Then check out Faces of the Layoffs, a new blog featuring stories of people who have been laid off.

I am all too intimately aware of the School District’s many failings. I could write a book about all of the screwups and idiocy I have witnessed.

But the solution to those problems is not to abandon our commitment to the very concept of public education.

Update: Per the comment below, the photo should be credited to Principal Alice Heller. Many thanks!

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Telling the story of Latino Philadelphia

4 May

The newspaper Al Día has long been a leader in improving our city, often by spotlighting people who are doing good work, and by stubbornly advocating for change when needed.200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia - book cover

Erika Almiron headshot

Erika Almiron, Juntos

Recently the paper published a beautiful coffee table book with photos showing the history of Latinos in Philadelphia. It is available for $39.95 from Temple University Press (and less from Amazon).

See photos from the book in this slideshow.

Then check out this fascinating WHYY Radio Times interview featuring:

  • Erika Almiron, executive director of the South Philadelphia immigrant advocacy group Juntos (“Together”).

Here are some things I learned from the interview:

  • Latin American revolutionary leaders embraced Philadelphia during the 18th and 19th centuries due to the city’s Quakerly tolerance of religious and political diversity.
  • During World War II, Mexican “braceros*” came to Philadelphia on a guest worker program to work for the railroads. After the war, they returned to Mexico.
  • The church La Miligrosa, in the Spring Garden section of the city, is affectionately known as “the Plymouth Rock of Latino Catholics in Philadelphia.”
  • Voting-rights advocacy by Latino Philadelphians has had national implications for other groups working to get full access to the polls.

Listen to the WHYY radio show.

*Bracero translates approximately as “strong arms,” and is the informal name for a US government program to bring manual laborers and other workers from Mexico to the United States on temporary visas. The program lasted from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Classical color

27 Apr

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the Haas & Hahn mural project in the 2500-2800 blocks of Germantown Avenue in North Philadelphia.

MetroPCS store signThere has been a lot of press on both the beauty and the challenges of the project. I am inclined to focus on the former.

I particularly like the way that the artists incorporated the businesses’ existing signs into their artwork. For example, there’s a MetroPCS store that uses purple and orange.

And this Gentle Dental, in blue and white. Gentle Dental sign and mural

The Hair of Elegance salon is definitely my favorite. Hair of Elegance sign and muralSo sunshiny!

People’s fears about gentrification are very real, and some of the media coverage has had a decidedly insulting tone (implying or straight out saying that the area is a “slum”).

But you don’t have to buy into an impoverished or stereotyped view of North Philadelphia in order to acknowledge that everyone deserves beauty in their lives.

A while back I had the privilege of hearing Bill Strickland speak about his work in Pittsburgh.

I won’t attempt to summarize his extraordinary accomplishments here, but I will quote him on the importance of making his educational center a beautiful place. (The context is Strickland seeing a Frank Lloyd Wright house for the first time, and being struck by the use of light.)

I thought, “If I could ever bring that light into my neighborhood — bring it to people who deserved it and would respond to it as wholeheartedly and creatively as anybody — then I was home free.”