There is no denying the Philadelphia School District is woefully underfunded, understaffed, and under fire. I’ve written before about the budget and management crisis in Philadelphia, offering some small ways families can offer support. But in so many ways things are getting better.
The drama in the district is no small part of the reason why many families flee to the suburbs or choose to put their children in pricey private schools. I am fortunate enough to live in one of the better elementary school catchments. Though due to record parental involvement and a renaissance of community interest in grassroots public school improvement, the definition of better has expanded from a formerly elite three to more than a dozen thriving community elementaries that families are excited about.
While I was nervous about my son starting Kindergarten in such a scrutinized and unsure environment, the more I compare his experience to my own, the more I realize it’s not so different.
I went to elementary school in a very white, Jewish section of Abington, PA, where many of the students lived in the mansions of the “Biddle Estates.” These parents could have afforded to send their children anywhere, but Rydal Elementary it was. Looking back on what I remember, as privileged suburban youth in a top public school district, we didn’t have it all that different than the students at McCall.
I realize that it’s because I am in a better cachement that my son’s educational experience mirrors the 1980s experience that churned me out into a somewhat civilized member of society. Our parents can afford to chip in when it looks like the librarian could be laid off. We have a full time nurse so I don’t have to live in panic that my son will die of an asthma attack without anyone noticing. There are two actual crossing guards.
They may no longer offer Mandarin or hand out free violins, but I’ll be damned if anyone is going to take away the 1980s education my children rightly deserve. It’s been proven by the students at Rydal Elementary that even without a pool in the building or a crew team, children who spoke no English upon arrival could go on to Ivy League universities.
Philadelphia public schools are far from perfect. But our families won’t allow the bickering powers that be strip away our basic rights to Scholastic books, an overhead projector, and very small wooden chairs. Your kids will be just fine. And, hopefully, we can strip that “better cachement” nonsense from our vocabularies soon.