The Philadelphia Student Union exists to build the power of young people to demand a high-quality education in the Philadelphia public school system. We are a youth-centered organization and we make positive changes in the short term by learning how to organize to build power. We also work toward becoming life-long learners and leaders who can bring diverse groups of people together to address the problems that our communities face.
Youth Organizing and Leadership Development
We prioritize invoicing students in education justice organizing and leadership development in the following three spaces:
Youth-led chapters inside schools, where members develop specific campaigns to address problems in their schools which impact them directly such as over-policing in schools, establishing restorative justice programs and addressing problems with the school building. Chapters meet weekly and discuss how they can identify issues within the school in which they can involve the broader student body and supporters in addressing. They also facilitate discussions on current events and broader social justice topics to encourage ongoing connections between what is happening within the school and what is happening in communities across Philadelphia as well as the rest of the country.
Citywide meetings where members from across the city participate in training on how to become facilitators and organizers on issues that impact students throughout Philadelphia. Citywide meetings provide opportunities for members, from each chapter and those who are not part of one, to learn about issues impacting their peers and how they are being addressed. Monthly skills trainings for (i.e. facilitation, public speaking, conducting outreach) and political education are prioritized for this space. The meetings normally happen at our office on Thursdays from 4pm-630pm.
Arts and Cultural Programming where members learn about the history of how arts has been used by social justice movements, both in the US and throughout the world, to tell stories of injustice and as a means to challenge those in power to address these problems. Members learn how to use a variety of artistic mediums including poster and banner making, poetry, music, photography and film as part of organizing and activism. This space is offered on Fridays from 4pm-7pm.
If you are interested in building your skills as a leader and changing the education system to meet the needs of students, parents and educators, join us!
The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare for It TODAY!
The Philadelphia Student Union was started in 1995 by a group of young people who were concerned about not receiving the quality of education that they deserved. They decided that if school reform were going to be successful, it would have to involve students as leaders for change. At that time the White Dog Café was starting a non-profit called Urban Retrievers, which agreed to sponsor the Philadelphia Student Union. As the Philadelphia Student Union grew, it became clear that it was the most exciting part of Urban Retrievers’ programming. In March of 2001 Urban Retrievers’ board decided to officially change the name of the organization to the Philadelphia Student Union.
The Philadelphia Student Union started with a small group of students mainly from magnet schools. In the first two years of its existence the message of PSU reached students in the neighborhood high schools. Neighborhood school students flocked to PSU because of their desperate need to make changes at their schools, which lacked books, qualified teachers, and healthy school cultures. In 1997 the organization opened chapters at Simon Gratz High School and West Philadelphia High School. From this point forward the Student Union’s primary membership became neighborhood school students. We continue to have active participation from magnet school students as well.
The organization has grown from the dream of a few students to a strong organization that has allowed students themselves to become a major force for improving schools in Philadelphia. Over 3,500 young people have completed the Student Union’s leadership development program. These young people learned how to bring people together to solve problems. Many of our former members have become active in organizing, youth work and advocacy in their colleges and communities.