This week millions of children will be going back to school across the country. As a Philadelphia resident and parent of three school age children and one preschooler, I find this time of a year a bit overwhelming and I already begin to yearn for the less structured days of summer. However, this year I am looking at the school year and urban education differently due to my PULSE assignment at the Philadelphia Education Fund (Ed Fund); a Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to working to improve public schools in the City of Philadelphia. This year, it is foremost in my mind that all children should have access to a good education and not just that, but also a solid, complementary experience throughout the entire ecosystem that intersects school and learning which includes their commute, nutrition, a safe, clean and quiet home, access to physical and other after school activities.
During the days leading up to September 4th, I have been taking an inventory in my family of who needs a new backpack, sneakers, clothes and reviewing the communications from the teachers including the lists of school supplies. While, I do not purchase my kids new backpacks every year or new sneakers, just because it is the first day of school, I have begun to question the need to even purchase new school supplies. I was influenced by a sign I saw in the office building where the Ed Fund is located. The sign was promoting a “backpack-a-thon” hosted by Cradles for Crayons to fill more than 15,000 backpacks with new school supplies for local low-income and homeless children to go back to school with the supplies that they need to be ready to learn. This event is similar to the annual GSK Back to School Party at the Durham Rescue Mission, where school supplies ae provided to children in need in the local Durham community.
As the poorest of the nation’s 10 largest cities, Philadelphia’s child poverty rate is the highest it’s been in 50 years. There are many kids whose families cannot afford such basic of needs as pencils and notebooks, things my children take for granted, but not this year. Prior to going to Staples, we took inventory throughout our house, we had pens and pencils in all colors and designs, erasers in shapes of ice cream cones and trains and folders that were still salvageable. This was a valuable lesson for us all about sustainability, stewardship, and appreciation. While I still ended up spending $100.00 dollars at Staples, we re-used previous school year supplies and had a productive discussion about why we were not going to be purchasing all new school supplies this year. Hopefully, some part of this discussion resonated with them as they re-use their tattered folders from last year.
I have always felt strongly about the importance of education and that every child has a right to be challenged in a safe and nurturing environment. Working at the Ed Fund has made me appreciate this even more as the excitement and chaos of the school year begins at the Ed Fund and in the Greenwald-Katz household.