City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. chats with Beeber students over breakfast on the first day of school.
Philly teachers made it through their first day back at school, in many cases without counselors, assistant principals, librarians and nurses — but it wasn't always pretty. How they're going to make it through 179 more of them isn't totally clear.
Take Robeson High School in West Philly, which received students from closed schools including Bok, University City and Lamberton. The school is sharing a counselor with six other schools, according to 9th- and 11th-grade English teacher Andrew Saltz. That's already proving to be a problem: One student had experienced a death in a family, but the school has no grief counseling available. Saltz scrambled to come up with an external referral. And many of his other students need fee waivers for the SATs, and they need the counselor to apply for them. "She said that was not on the list of things she was doing," Saltz says. "I don't know who's going to send out transcripts — kids are already appying for rolling admission, so I have no idea. And some schools require a letter from a guidance counselor. So I don't know what we're going to do."
"I found this app for their smartphone, which helps them search scholarships, and I got really excited. And then I got really depressed, because I'm trying to replace a guidance counselor with a dollar smartphone app."
That wasn't the only change at Robeson, whose student body rallied just to keep the doors open after being on the closing list last year. "We had to announce to [the kids] that we have no AP classes," down from two last year. Pre-calculus is also eliminated
Over at Bache-Martin, a K-8 school in Fairmount, Kristin Luebbert's eighth-graders were also upset to learn there was no guidance counselor. "They said, 'What do you mean? We need someone to help us pick a high school. Our parents don't know how to do this.' They did not like hearing that there is no counselor to do this for them." Luebbert says there's a limit to how much she can help. For example, she doesn't have access to transcripts to send them out on students' behalf.
The school's assistant principal, librarian and violin teacher are gone, and the art instructor was cut to two days a week. "The library's there, but no librarian, so it's a dilemma as to what to do with a library that doesn't have a person to keep it up. If every teacher uses it, does it become the sort of tragedy of the commons?"
Parents also learned this morning that cuts to the school-security staff (aka noontime aides) meant that many schools that previously opened early to let kids in off the streets and give them breakfast can no longer do so. A teacher said that was the case at Heston Elementary, and it's also true at Bache-Martin. "That's a big change for our kids and their families," says Luebbert.
The elimination of aides at Beeber Middle School meant teachers have to escort kids between classes now. Sam Reed, a teacher there, also noticed that the principal was doing lunch duty today. "We used to have staff to do that, but I think he's going to be down there consistently. Which is fine, but a principal could be utilized in other ways."
This morning the media spotlight was on Beeber as both Mayor Nutter, Superintendent William Hite and Councilman Curtis Jones stopped by for various events. That attention, says Reed, started the year as "a year of promise as well as apprehension, with staffing shortages and resource shortages."
Reed says things went OK today, all things considered. The most interesting moment came when, "a parent had Nutter's and Dr. Hite's ear, and she said, 'It's really great that you guys are here. But after you guys are gone, when these teachers need you or they need resources, are you going to be there for them?' … It's an important question."
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