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Bonds Between Students: My experience becoming part of PSU’s West Chapter

In 2006 I attended my 9th grade year at West Philadelphia High School. During that time there was chaos occurring everyday such as fires, fights and arrests. I felt unsafe at school. At the beginning of my 11th grade year I left Philadelphia for my country Mauritania (located in west Africa). I hoped that the school would get better. During my time in Mauritania I heard from my fellow students that the school was improving under then principal Ms. Cruz.

When I came back to West Philadelphia in 2010 the school seemed a little bit better, but other things got worse. The discipline policies didn’t make sense. Students were getting suspended for not wearing their uniforms, students who wouldn’t take off their hoodies were getting arrested and the school staff were confiscating and losing students’ cell phones. While all of that was happening there was a series of four different principals, one after the other. The school kept getting more chaotic. No one was listening to the students. I started to feel indifferent about school.

One day during the Fall I was walking out of school, when I encountered my friend Mohammed.  He asked me if I wanted to go to a Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) meeting. He told me that PSU is a youth-led organization that helps students solve problems in their school. I was amazed by the idea of this so-called PSU. I had an urge to go see what it was all about. My friend introduced me to Iliyaas, one of the staff members of PSU and the organizer at West Philadelphia high school. I was surprised that he spoke French.

When we arrived at the PSU office, students from West Philadelphia high school circled up. We were preparing to attend a meeting at the School District of Philadelphia, to speak about what was going on and to have our voices heard. The problems we wanted to address included: students getting arrested, suspended and expelled, and transitions of principals. The students had enough of the madness.

We spoke to the School Reform Commission about the climate, and a safe environment for students. How can we learn when we worry more about our safety than education? The School Reform Commission seemed flabbergasted that we care about our school.

“I would say our point got across,” said Troy Wiggens, a West student who testified to the School Reform Commission, “I was thrilled how much power we had when we put our minds together and worked as a team.”

That day began a new epoch for me. I felt gratification that the meeting went smoothly. Since that day, I wanted to be a part of the Philadelphia Student Union as it was a part of me. Iliyaas asked me if I would like to come to the chapter meetings on Wednesdays. I said yes, that I would like to be a member of PSU.

I started to go meetings at West Philadelphia High School and found that we, the students, have a strong connection. I said to myself, these are the kind of meetings that create inseparable bonds between students. We believe that education is freedom. If we believe, only then can we achieve the impossible.

Now, West Philadelphia high school is being turned into a Promise Academy, which means longer school days and school hours along with a lot of other changes.  We need to make sure that if our school becomes a Promise Academy that it contains the same staff members and students we have now. We also need to attract more parents to get involved in the school. The more students and parents we attract, the more power we have to determine our education.

This article was published in the Spring 2011 edition of The Union Rep. Download a pdf of the whole newsletter


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