by Megan Plevy
This past Friday morning as school opened, dozens of teachers and PCAPS supporters assembled at the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences to draw attention to the impact of budget cuts on safety and learning conditions. As parents dropped their children off to school, teachers, volunteers, and middle school students handed out fact sheets and yellow buttons that read “Fund Our Schools” while chanting for change.
English as Second Language teacher and Philadelphia Federation for Teachers representative Amy Roat spoke at the rally about the the strains on teachers and students alike due to crowded classes and lack of materials. She also emphasized the need to reach out to more parents. Teachers are struggling to communicate with some of the families in this predominantly Latino working class community about getting more involved. “We are open, but dysfunctional,” Roat explains. “Parents need to understand that in order to join the fight.”
In order to increase parent awareness, the demonstrators also distributed fliers to parents pushing them to file a formal complaint with the District about the detrimental effects these inefficiencies in school have caused for their children.
As a result of the Philadelphia financial crisis, Feltonville Arts and Sciences lost multiple teachers, including two math teachers, two science teachers, a full-time music teacher, and one literacy teacher. Shawn Laudenslager, a math and special education teacher, must also teach science now as a result of the layoffs, even though he is not certified. “Everyone’s struggling,” Laudenslager says. “I now teach math in 45 minutes instead of 90 since we have more sections and less time.”
Not only are they lacking teachers, but other school staff members as well. Feltonville has a nurse that comes only twice a week, no counselors, and not enough safety personnel to open the school earlier for students whom arrive early from farther stretches of the city. “Because there are no extra aides, the gates open at 8:00 a.m.,” Science and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher Deborah Bambino says, “So when I come to school, kids are already here loose on the street. Feltonville is no longer a safe haven and that should be seen as criminal.”
With no counselors, a part-time nurse, and the noticeable absence of last year’s teachers, students are critically affected. “They ask questions like, ‘Why are there so many kids in my homeroom?’” Laudenslager says.“They can tell things are going on.” Along with making sure students are both emotionally and physically well, teachers now must also help families with government assistance and applications to Philadelphia high schools.
This past Friday’s rally at Feltonville is part of a series of demonstrations arranged by PCAPS called “Full Funding Fridays.” Each Friday, PCAPS plans to picket at a different school to highlight the plethora of problems among Philadelphia schools and fight to reclaim the funding, resources, and teachers for Philadelphia’s children.