The following is an extended version of a letter that ran in response to The Philadelphia Inquirer's coverage of the recent events at Bartram High School.
Dear Ms. Graham & Mr. Purcell,
First, I want to thank you for your in-depth article in today's paper on the troubles at Bartram High School. It was heartening to see that you had interviewed teachers and students rather than solely relying on the input of district and union officials.
As a former teacher at Bartram, however, I saw the real story at the very end of the article. You quoted a teacher who said, "There's a lot of talented, intelligent kids that are getting the bad end of the stick."
In my experience, this is the entire story.
When we talk about education in this city, first we talk about budget crises, then about labor disputes, then about school safety and unspeakable tragedies in the neighborhoods, and finally, if there's any time, we talk about the incredible success stories of the lucky few.
The one thing we neglect to talk about is that our students are just kids. They have favorite subjects and favorite teachers. They hide from teachers whose homework they haven't done. They gossip with their friends and have crushes on their classmates. They are just like any other students in Pennsylvania, except that they are only given half the chance.
When I worked at Bartram, I was asked the same question constantly, by friends and neighbors and strangers on the street, "Isn't that a bad school?" I was not naive enough to believe anyone was referring to quality of education or the poor physical condition of the building. They meant to ask, "Isn't that a school full of bad kids?" The question broke my heart every time it was asked.
As I stated at the start of this letter, I am grateful the safety of our students is being addressed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local media. It is an issue that needs to be made public, and addressed meaningfully by this city. I would love more than anything, though, to see our students portrayed publicly as the human beings they are, rather than statistics, the victims and perpetrators of violent crime. There are, in fact, a great number "of talented, intelligent kids" at Bartram High School, and I'd like this city to see them, to know them, and to give them the attention and the education they deserve.
Bernadette McHenry taught at Bartram for the 2012-2013 school year and was then laid off. She no longer teaches in the School District of Philadelphia.