Are you sick of our toxic school building conditions?
Earlier this month, a School District of Philadelphia educator was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. In Philadelphia 175 of our schools have asbestos, as well as other harmful building materials and contaminants, and educators refuse to continue to stand by while the health of our students, colleagues, and community are affected.
At this week's September School Board meeting, colleagues, parents, and students of the affected educator took the brave step of testifying on the need for lead and asbestos remediation for ALL Philly schools.
To show our solidarity with all our colleagues and students who have had their health affected by unsafe school conditions, as well as those taking the brave step to speak out at the school board, WE members helped to organize solidarity photos wearing respirator masks at schools across the city. Check out some of the powerful photos below:Read more
In 2018, the call for the hiring and retention of Black educators was adopted as one of the demands of the National and Local Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. While not a new issue facing our nation's schools, this demand came in response to the recent attention given to the lack of Black educators across the nation, especially in schools serving predominantly Black and Brown students. After years of ongoing asks and pressure, the School District took the first step in meeting the demand for more Black teachers by making current teacher demographic information available to the public.
Philadelphia educators, parents, and other allies have been pushing the district for the past couple of years to collect and release the racial demographic information of the city’s teaching force. Working in collaboration, the Racial Justice Committee of WE and the Melanated Educators Collective (MEC) have been involved in ongoing conversations with the Board of Education and SDP to release this data as a first step in the campaign to hire and retain more Black teachers in our city. Most recently, in August, parents spoke at the Board of Education meeting demanding from Superintendent Hite that this information be publically accessible, which Dr. Hite promised would happen, adding a thank you for MEC’s work around this issue.Read more
As shared yesterday by PFT leadership, one of our fellow union members has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. There is a very real possibility that this exposure came from the teacher’s time in district schools.
How At-Risk Is My School?
As a part of their “Toxic Schools” special report, The Philadelphia Inquirer tabulated incidents of damaged asbestos and other health threats in all district buildings. 175 schools have some asbestos present in their building, and there are 46 schools that had 20 or more incidents of damaged asbestos in their building -- which increases the chance of exposure.
Is your school on the 20+list? Check this spreadsheet to find out.Read more
"Registering to vote is extreme, urgent, ultimate, high-stakes - It is grown-ass learning." -Lorene Cary, writer/teacher, Safe Kids Stories, Vote That Jawn! to the Philadelphia Board of Education May 30, 2019
On November 5th, we cast ballots for Mayor, City Council, Judges, and other offices that have a huge impact on our students' lives. And with the all-important PA primaries on April 28th, we're organizing with teachers, students, and non-partisan community groups in almost every high school to make sure every eligible senior registers to vote AND shows up to the polls.
This grassroots campaign has taken off and we saw a 157% increase in voter turnout by 18-year-olds in Philly! Now we're asking for support from the top as well. Please sign our Letter to the Philadelphia Board of Education for a Student Voter Education and Engagement Policy. We'll present the letter to the board at their September 19th Action Meeting. Sign up to speak here, or just come to support a district voter policy!
We've been testifying at board meetings since April with positive results. The Office of Curriculum and Instruction, Committee of Seventy, and Philly Youth Vote organized a professional development that brought together 53 teachers, 33 schools, and 17 organizations at the end of August to plan their schools' voter registration and GOTV drives. See the extensive resource folder for all the materials that we shared.
The Board also passed a resolution to recognize National Voter Registration Day on September 24th. Register your school as a partner to receive posters, stickers, information, and access to voter registration webinars. Work with the organizations listed below to plan activities for that day. The fall registration deadline isn't far away!
So for your classroom, here's the 2019-2020 lesson plan:
NOW - Early September: SIGN UP HERE to spearhead the registration and get-out-the-vote drive at your high school!
We'll send you suggestions and voter registration forms to GET EVERY SENIOR TO VOTE!
We'll also connect you with organizations to facilitate a student leader training with voting pledge cards, stickers, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) mobilizing, and the opportunity for your school to win the Governor's Award for Civic Engagement (Silver for schools that register over 65%, and Gold for over 85% of eligible seniors). Register here.
Connect with Philly Youth VOTE! on social media to share your students' successes and get the latest happenings:
September 3rd - 13th: Register High School Seniors to Vote!
Recruit a team of student leaders. Inspire them with the Vote That Jawn! Philly-centric videos and social media campaigns. They are planning activities and campaigns for teens throughout the school year.
Download a student spreadsheet from SchoolNet and sort your students by birth date and the elections they are eligible to vote in. See download instructions here.
If students will be 18 by November 5th, get them to register now. You can download paper registration forms, or we can pony-mail them to your school. Sign up here with the number of forms you need for your students.
OR, they can register online, but there's an extra step: If they do not have a driver's license or state ID, they must take a photo of their signature and upload it.
If students don't have a driver's license they can use the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number.
IMPORTANT: Ask your student team to collect the cell phone numbers of students that register. This will be critical for student-led GOTV text messages on Election Day. Use these Voter Pledge Cards for students to sign and record contact info. Studies have shown that making a pledge and a plan for voting dramatically increases the likelihood that a voter will turn out.
Discuss the political parties that students can choose to join. A good classroom conversation starter is the I Side With quiz. Make sure students understand how their choice will affect whether they can vote in Pennsylvania's closed primary elections or not.
- Registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for their party's candidates in the primary.
- "No affiliation" or "Other" (minor party) registrants cannot vote for candidates in the primary, only ballot questions.
See if Parents and Families Need to Register too. Here are downloadable forms in 16 languages you can send home with students:
- Chinese (simplified)
- Chinese (traditional)
- Haitian Creole
September 16th-27th: Hand Deliver or Mail Paper Registration Forms
Deadline Alert: Registration forms must be received by the Voter Registration Office by October 7th, so allow plenty of time to get there.
Both the City Commissioners' Office and the SDP have offered to pick up and deliver your completed forms: Call the City Commissioners: 215-686-3460, or email SDP Curriculum Specialist Yaasiyn Muhammad.
Forms can be hand delivered from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday to Friday:
The Philadelphia Voter Registration Office, 520 N. Columbus Blvd, 5th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19123
The Philadelphia County Board of Elections, Room 142 City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107
However you deliver your forms, be sure to keep a record! It takes about 2 weeks for the City Commissioners office to process the forms. Have students confirm their voter application status to make sure their registration is complete and correct.
October: Research the ballot and candidates with your students.
Start with these nonpartisan resources:
Then research media coverage and endorsements from a range of organizations.
October 28th - November 4th: Have Students Find Their Polling Places and make a plan to vote.
Making a plan in advance, knowing when, and how to get to your polling place increases turnout by a whopping 30%!
If a student knows they cannot make it to their polling place, they must apply for an absentee ballot before Election Day. This is especially important for students that go away to college in the fall, but beware of the deadlines.
November 5th: Election Day - Get Out The Vote!
Remind students to get to the polls and to go as a family! One proven way to improve voter turnout is to send students a text message on election day.
First-time voters must show a photo or non-photo ID at the polling place. Acceptable forms of ID.
November 6th - Look at the election returns with your students!
I bet we made a difference!
November - April 28, 2020 - Repeat for the Primaries!!!
April 29 - June - ...and onward to the 2020 Presidential Election!
Many of your juniors will be eligible to register. Check with your college-bound students if they plan to re-register at school, or apply for an absentee ballot.
Organizations helping with non-partisan civic engagement curricula and voter registration in schools:
Committee of Seventy / Draw the Lines PA / First Vote PA provides lesson materials and is a wealthy source of local election information. Their website is indispensable. See the Draw the Lines Teacher Toolkit. Contact Lauren Cristella.
Inspire PA / PA Student Power Network - Rising from the ashes of Inspire US, Inspire PA is ready to work in schools to register, GOTV, and help schools win the Governor's Award. Contact Andaya Sugayan or James Cersonsky.
The League or Women Voters of Philadelphia is training volunteers and getting clearances to help with voter registration and GOTV in Schools. See their High School Voter Registration Training Manual. Contact Bev Keith.
National Voter Registration Day - Register your school as a partner to receive posters, stickers, information, and access to voter registration webinars.
NextGen Pennsylvania - Organizing town halls with elected officials in schools. Contact Precious Samuel.
Philadelphia City Commissioners Lisa Deeley and Al Schmidt will both come to schools with voting booths for nonpartisan assemblies about elections and voting. They'll even run your student council elections! Call and ask them to pick up your registration forms. 215-686-3460
SDP Office of Curriculum & Instruction - Offers civics curricula, professional development, resources for National Voter Registration Day, and pickup/delivery of voter registration forms. Contact Yaasiyn Muhammad or Grace Palladino.
Teaching Tolerance - Voting and Voices classroom resources.
Vote That Jawn! - A very Philly teen voter registration campaign. Watch their videos and hear the Vote That Jawn! rap! Contact Lorene Cary.
Voter Education and Participation for Youth (VEPY) - A program designed to encourage, educate and increase voter participation among youth. Contact Rosemary Chapman and Arnold Singletary 215-252-6109 or 215-908-6500
When We All Vote - Voter education and registration programming, support, and resources
WHYY Youth Media Labs - Hands-on media arts training in schools and at WHYY studios. Watch Can’t Be Silenced: Philadelphia Youth Hit the Polls. Contact Lisa Wilk.
Youth United for Change VOTA! We train people to register voters, can do on site registrations, workshops on the importance of voting, get out the vote! calls/texts/door conversations as well as Voting 101 (where do you vote, how do the machines work, what's on the ballot, etc). Contact Kat Engleman.
Looking ahead, Philly Youth VOTE! would like to develop a web API online voter registration app in partnership with the PA Department of State. This is next-level, and would enable schools to register students to vote on computer tablets, and collect contact info to seamlessly coordinate with GOTV (get-out-the-vote) phone and text-banking software. We're seeking experienced web developers to help with this project. Do you have other ideas or resources to get the student and family vote out? Send an email to Thomas Quinn.
On Wednesday, City Council called a special hearing regarding the increased gun violence and death in Philadelphia. Panelists ranging from D.A. Krasner to Police Commissioner Ross to the Department of Health were tasked with providing solutions to address the increasing gun violence in the city. While this hearing was billed as an opportunity for Philadelphia City Council and the community to come together, that did not happen; after three hours, despite the large showing, no citizen had been given the opportunity to speak.
The options offered by the various city departments largely revolved around increased policing and surveillance and aesthetic changes such as cleaning and securing vacant lots and buildings. While some attention was paid to the idea that job creation and increased open public facilities in the summer for teens and young adults would help, there were very few practical approaches. In fact, there didn’t even seem to be an available map of community centers with extended hours.
This hearing greatly lacked the insight of educators, community members, and others who are most impacted by poverty and the other root issues of the increased gun violence in Philadelphia. While there was passing mention of Dr. Hite, this was not attached to any actual proposal or plan to address gun violence and trauma through our city’s schools, a public institution that allows for the greatest opportunity to reach communities most impacted by these issues.
It is clear that the city does not have a plan for improved funding around education and poverty. Starting in elementary schools, students need to be receiving social and emotional education and exposure to genuine restorative justice. Schools, as stated by Councilwoman Helen Gym, need more funding to provide for counselors and social workers for all of the students who are experiencing trauma right now, this summer, because of the increased violence and death.
Educators and parents in this city have had enough. Over the next few weeks, we will continue meeting with representatives from city council and are in the process of planning a Town Hall that will bring youth, parents, community members, and educators together to discuss actual solutions to this onslaught of violence stemming from decades of poverty, racism, and disinvestment of Philadelphia’s Black and Brown communities.
If you haven’t already signed on to our statement about gun violence, it’s not too late. And you can share the statement using this link: http://bit.ly/phlgunviolence
While the response time is unclear, you can provide information if you notice increased activity in your area via telephone 215.686.TIPS (8477).
HELP US WIN $30 MILLION MORE FOR HEALTHY SCHOOLS THIS FALL!
The School District has an unplanned balance of $46 million, and alongside Councilperson Helen Gym and allies we are calling the Board of Education to demand that extra money is invested in healing our toxic school building conditions.
After demonstrating our growing people power all year —through community meetings, packing the school board and city council, and presenting our #HealOurSchools petition with over 3,300 PFT and community signatures— political leaders are taking notice that our students need safe and healthy buildings NOW. This year alone we have won more state funding for lead abatement, more money for air conditioners, and now we have the opportunity to win an additional $30 million for building conditions. Thank you Councilperson Gym for lifting up this opportunity- now let’s call the Board of Education and make it happen! #WhenWeFightWeWin
We are asking ALL educators, parents, community members, and allies in the fight for public education to call the Board of Education at 215-400-4010! Call this week, and tweet @PHLschoolboard to put the pressure on district leadership to continue the work of ending the toxic school conditions in our buildings. #HealOurSchools #FundOurSchools #EndTheLead
This week, the School District announced a plan to study building use and demographic changes in Philadelphia.
While we recognize that studies like these are necessary to guide increased investment in our schools and prevent overcrowding of our classrooms, we want to ensure that the school district centers the communities of color -who make up the majority of Philadelphia residents and students- as they move forward with this decision-making process.
These studies will provide data that will be used to make decisions that will impact Philly’s students, educators, and families for decades to come. If our goal is truly to create vibrant public schools that support all students in our city to learn and grow, the true stakeholders in every school community must have power in this process.
In order to guide the district's "Comprehensive School Planning Review", we propose the following principles:Read more
By Blair Downie
Sign up for the 2019 Summer Reading Series here!
There’s nothing quite like a middle school environment when PSSA testing has concluded and the weather is getting warmer. As the testing coordinator of my school, my brain is pretty much jello once we ship that final box back to the DRC. It was that jello brain that desperately needed a break as I was waiting for UPS, checking the PFT Facebook page, and I saw a post advertising WE’s Summer Book Clubs. The description of the Summer Book Clubs jumped out to me: “the Reading Series will be a place to deepen our relationships with each other; expand our political analysis, and inform our organizing and teaching in the upcoming year.” This sounded appealing, even to my post-PSSA jello brain. An opportunity to spend time over the summer talking about things that I cared deeply about with other people who cared deeply of those things - sign me up!
I signed up for the group that planned to discuss So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I received an email shortly after letting me know how the book would be divided into three parts for three different meetings. I bought my copy and off I went to meet up with friends at the beach for a long weekend. While So You Want to Talk About Race may not be a traditional beach read, there I was dog-earring pages and scribbling notes in the sun. I was so excited to share my thoughts and notes at our first meeting.
As I drove down Lincoln Drive on the way to our first meeting at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, I had no idea what to expect. As somebody who struggles with being perpetually early to everything, I was, of course, one of the first people to arrive and had to walk around the building aimlessly, looking for a door. I was definitely nervous to be around a group of new people, but I’d soon learn that there was nothing to be nervous about. The first book club meeting far exceeded my expectations. Everybody was warm and welcoming and the facilitators framed the discussion with norms that made everybody a bit more comfortable. The discussions were rich, the snacks flowed freely, and two hours seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. I could never have fathomed at that moment that my first book club meeting would end up being a jumping-off point for me and so much of the work that would encompass the next year of my life. I felt like I had finally found a space that not only validated that caring about racial and social justice was vital to our role as educators but lifted up that passion in ways I could never have imagined.Read more
On Wednesday, May 15, the school district announced that more than 20 new buildings will be getting updated cooling systems. After over a year of organizing to improve building conditions in Philly schools, the Caucus of Working Educators is proud to celebrate this victory with all the staff, students, and community members who fought for air conditioning in every school building.
This year, rank-and-file members of the PFT organized to demand an end to toxic conditions in our schools. The petition below represents thousands of face-to-face conversations with rank-and-file PFT members. Over 2,500 members signed the petition demanding air conditioning in every learning space. Extreme heat in school buildings was a cause of several school closures last summer as well as a major asthma trigger. Asthma is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in Philly schools. The petition also demands lead remediation and robust pest control in every Philadelphia public school.
This past year we have witnessed thousands of teachers across the country regain their voice in the fight to save public education. Teachers have started using some of the strongest tools we have to regain power: striking, media campaigns, and of course, running for office.
Not only are teachers running for office in record numbers- they are winning. The public trusts teachers to make strong decisions that will better both our schools and our communities.
In the Democratic Primary next Tuesday May 21st, we have the chance to vote a teacher, PFT member, and education activist into Philadelphia city politics: Luigi Borda, a middle school history teacher and WE member, is running for Philly City Commissioner.
Push Button #37 on May 21st to Vote for Luigi Borda for City Commissioner!
What is the Philly City Commissioner? Commissioners make the elections happen, ensure that they are fair, and support voter turnout. Luigi Borda has spent the last ten years demonstrating a single minded determination to increase Philadelphia voter turn-out. How? Just a few of Luigi's strategies include:
- Educate and energize students and voters of all ages, races and parts of the city to turn Philadelphia into a voting Powerhouse
- Bombard our schools with resources to get young people to vote. He wants to visit every neighborhood block party this summer with a mobile “voting van” to teach everyone the process of how to register, understand a ballot, and vote.
- Make sure that every local ward leader has the machines, people and energy they need to increase their own local turn-out, and he plans to hold them accountable for their numbers.
Politicians and the public must see that teachers are serious about doing whatever it takes to save public education in Philadelphia. They must see that we are a powerful voting bloc, and we will come together to put our strongest advocates into office. We hope you will join Luigi’s teacher’s campaign by doing the following four things:Read more