When going through a profound change it seems quite impossible to try to articulate that profoundness through words, especially words in a blog, that someone may or may not read. I made promises to myself that I would blog often while on this journey, yet since I’ve been in Philadelphia, I’ve been silent. I’ve been silent in a struggle to find the right words. The only word I could use to describe my journey so far is “unbalanced”. For those of you who know me personally, you know I’m always talking about my perpetual search for balance.
The Philadelphia Education fund, and all it’s employees, is a remarkable organization. They are filling the support gaps for the Philadelphia Public School system in an effort to improve college access and professionally develop the teachers. So, where’s the unbalanced come into play, you ask? I’ll get to that.
I’ve spent a week with the Ed Fund getting to know their programs – like the Scholars program that helps first-generation college students navigate the Financial Aid world to get as much financial support to make it even possible to go to college. And then, at the end of the day, they provide “the Last Dollars” needed to close any gaps between financial aid and what tuition would be needed. Do you remember what it felt like to find money for college? The process can make you dizzy!
They also have a program of Teacher Networks to help coordinate and assemble all the formal and grass-roots type of networks of teachers across the school district that are leaning on each other for development & support, because the district isn’t equipped to develop the teachers beyond the national standards requirements. These networks are popping up all across the city and meeting after school hours or virtually, during teacher’s ‘free’ time. They are born out of necessity and the organic desire to be a better equipped teacher in the environment where they are teaching.
Imagine you have a child in a classroom with a first-year teacher. Now imagine that your child falls above or below any ‘national’ standards at any point in his development. Would you prefer a teacher that only knows what’s written in the standards, or would you prefer a teacher that is part of this connected community within your neighborhood that understands the full picture of your child and what may or may not be influencing their development. That teacher is then connected to the other teachers, other subjects, other schools to see if it’s a subject matter issue, school related issue, or an overall developmental issue. And then that same teacher gets access to tools, evaluations, and shared guidance on what different techniques could help your child. The teachers in the later example are definitely not paid for being networked; they actively participate in these networks because they want to be the best they can be…. for your child.
During my first week at the Ed Fund, I had the pleasure of meeting some teachers who radiated an energy I have never seen before. They were excited, they were passionate, they were positive, and they were hopeful. They were in all the stages of their careers – first time teachers, to the retired that explained to me how “you never really retire” from teaching. Every idea they offered was through the eyes and ears of their children, and the children of Philadelphia. Never once did someone utter an idea that was self-serving.
No one gets into education for the money. So this is where the unbalanced part comes in for me. My biggest observation and the largest challenge facing the Ed Fund right now is their lack of money. They are experiencing such a high demand for their programs yet their “supply” of resources has rapidly dwindled. A lot of their funding model has changed over the past couple years to the point where they are doing everything with a shoestring budget. And instead of prioritizing their time by banging on donors doors to get money, they are focused on the students and the teachers. It’s incredibly admirable. But is it sustainable? Ahh the conundrum that I’m in…. maybe I am here to learn the value of imbalance? Passions can only take you so far or can they take you further than I can imagine in my own mind? These employees are showing up every day to work tirelessly for these students and teachers, not knowing how the lights will be kept on or how they will feed their own children, yet they are calling, advocating, celebrating, developing, supporting, and helping each other in a way that truly is inspiring.
Stay tuned to see how my journey unfolds. I have way too many questions and not enough answers yet!
….and if you feel so obliged after reading this long blog, feel free to make your own donation to the Philadelphia Education Fund J Every dollar helps.
Thanks for sticking with me! Geri/Gigi
PS The picture I added to my blog is a small bowl of Ramen from NomNom Ramen shop in Center City. I had alot of questions about this ramen, but at the end of the day, it was delicious and needed no answers! Maybe there is hope yet!