The Philadelphia Student Union has grown from the dream of a few young people to a powerful organization with a solid organizing model. We now have chapters in six Philadelphia public schools as well as members from an additional six schools.
One of the greatest accomplishments we can name is that the high school drop out rate among PSU members is .06%. Our college attendance rate climbed to 90%since 2006.
Highlights of Prior successes:
2008 – School Funding Victory: On July 4th—after several months of lobbying, public actions, writing editorials and holding teach-ins about the unequal state of education funding in PA—schools across the state received a historic increase in basic education funding of about $275 million. For Philadelphia schools, we received $50 million in new money. PSU members were a major driving force of student organizing around this issue.
2007– West Philadelphia High School opened in the fall with four themed academies based on student surveys, a major first step in the transformation of the school. The Urban Studies Academy was one for which we had to fight particularly hard. The Urban Study selective class ended up being a great success. Students engaged in a hands-on project using new technologies such as GIS mapping where they created a professional proposal to transform a vacant lot into a garden and community space. To do this they interviewed community members and did research on community development. This is exactly the kind of hands one education that engages students in solving problems in their community that we would like to see throughout the new school.
2004-2006- PSU youth organizers at Bartram succeeded in pressuring the School District to contract Fellowship Farm, and helped them to design a process of bringing students and staff together to air their grievances and build meaningful relationships in a supportive environment.
2002-03- PSU influenced the School District to double the number of counselors in Philadelphia public high schools. That number increased from 114 to 228, a $9.5million expenditure.
Highlighted Victory: The Story of the Student Success Centers
In2002, the School District Administration announced that they were beginning ahigh school restructuring initiative. We saw this as a crucial time to involvestudents in the future of their schools. The Student Union was able togain a seat on the High School Restructuring Task Force. We then surveyedover 1000 students in our schools to find out what issues they were mostconcerned about. From the survey results we selected three issues that wewanted to have included in the high school plan: increasing the number ofguidance counselors, creating a student government that would truly givestudents a voice, and creating an engaging and multi-cultural curriculum. We did research on these issues and developed proposals on them.
On the issue of counselors, we convinced the district to double the number ofcounselors in Philadelphia public high schools. Some schools had student to counselorratios of 1 to 1200. This means that students have no one to talk toabout their problems and it is very difficult to get help with collegeapplications. The District increased the number of high school counselorsfrom 114 counselors to 228. We view this as a major victory in gettingthe District to focus more on supporting students and less on punishment.
Students from Bartram won a major victory for their school and nine others by designing and convincing the School District to implement Student Success Centers. The Centers are designed to be a place where students can get a variety of services including counseling, conflict resolution, social work services, and career and college help. A full-time social worker, social work interns, and a trained group of students will provide services. This is another initiative designed at helping schools focus on supporting students and preventing violence rather than treating students as criminals. Students worked with Resources for Change, a school based social work organization, and Youth Empowerment Services, an organization specializing in working with out of school youth, to create a model for the centers. Students from Bartram held several meetings with school district leadership and convinced them to implement centers in ten schools the following year. The Student Success Centers now exist, although we have had to continue to fight for their funding repeatedly, and we have had to fight to ensure that social workers were not cut from them. Student Success Centers have become a bastion of positive hope in the schools where they exist and we will continue to fight to ensure that they remain in our schools.