Why Black Lives STILL Matter... Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action 2019

by Tamara Anderson

In 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin a hashtag erupted into a movement. Alica Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomati created #BlackLivesMatter. A way for local organizers to pull together and continue the fight for Black lives. Because let's face it, we our under attack. And this attack has not ceased since we were kidnapped and brought by force to this country. In fact, the attack on brown and black bodies has been a global issue since ever. It is for this reason that we must continue to unearth the truth and share it without making it clean or easier to digest.

Philadelphia and many cities around the country are planning the National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. And I sit here and wonder if it is enough. Have we fully actualized the 13 guiding principles of this movement? Principles like Diversity, Loving Engagement, Collective Value, Queer and Trans Affirming, Black Families, Black Women and more? Have we? The answer is a resounding NO.

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Organizing Wins! How can Philly be #UTLAStrong?

This past week, 35,000 members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles made history as they went on strike for the first time in 30 years. How did they make it happen?

This strike has been years in the making. Our allies from the Union Power Caucus in Los Angeles lead UTLA with a vision of organizing, building rank and file power and social justice.  In organizing for this strike, the UTLA rank and file, through the support of their leadership, have built deep structures for communication and connection with each other that have made this strike so powerful.  They have garnered the support of families and students across the city and the support of school-based support staff in SEIU Education Workers United Local 99.

UTLA have developed a strike platform for a fair contract that is about fighting for the future of our public schools.  They are unwilling to settle for working and learning conditions that continue to do a disservice to their students and educators.  As President Alex-Caputo Pearl stated in their press conference given on Sunday evening, UTLA “will be on strike for as long as necessary."

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Working Educators Neighborhood Meetings

Working Educators members host regional meeting monthly in every neighborhood of the city! All educators, parents, and students are welcome to join a meeting in the neighborhood where they work/live.

For up-to-date meeting dates, please see our calendar of meetings and events. If you have any questions or need more info, please contact us at [email protected]


-West and Southwest Philly (meets 4th Wednesdays from 4-5pm)

-South Philly (meets 2nd Tuesdays from 4-5pm)

-North Philly (meetings tbd)

-Center City (meetings tbd)

-Northeast Philly (meetings tbd)


WE Committees and Meeting Dates

All Philly educators, parents, students, and community members are welcome to come to our WE Committee Meetings. All committees have been started by everyday Philly educators with the goal of bringing people together to share information, build connections, and take action- if you see something missing, we hope you'll start your own! 

For up-to-date meeting dates, please see our calendar of meetings and events. If you have any questions or need more info, please contact us at [email protected]. Click on each committee to see what they've been up to.

-Racial Justice Committee (meets 2nd Thursdays from 5-7 at the U School)

-Political and Electoral Organizing Committee

-Immigration Justice Educators Committee (meets 4th Thursdays from 4:30-6:00pm at the Aquinas Center)

-Queer Educators Organizing Committee (meets 3rd Mondays from 5:30-7pm at the Penn LGBTQ Center)

-Restorative Practices Project

-BAR-WE (Building Antiracist White Educators)


Buy Your Gifts from Philly Educators this Holiday Season!

Everyone knows that educators are talented people- but often the day to day life of school doesn't give them the chance to show off some of their other amazing talents. 

Check out some of these great ways to support Philly educators while buying gifts for the holidays this winter!

Would you like to be added to this list, or know an educator/parent who should be on it? Let us know at [email protected]. This post will be updated as new submissions are received.

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AlmaSM/bunnymermaid- illustration and printed works

Alma Sheppard-Matsuo, HS English Teacher

Description: Printed works with a fantastical spin, contains posters, books and cards that feature fairy tale figures, lore, legends and astrological influences.

Where can we find you?

-Etsy Shop: www.etsy.com/shop/AlmaSM

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Heal Our Schools: Community Meeting to End Toxic School Conditions

On Monday, December 10 from 4:30 - 6:30, the Caucus of Working Educators is hosting a community meeting to end toxic school conditions. 

As we have moved through this school year, it has become abundantly clear that our schools are shells of the learning institutions they could be. Our students deal with trauma in their neighborhoods and are then asked to sit in classrooms that further their distress. Many of our buildings are uninhabitable, from the lead, asbestos, and the crumbling, leaky ceilings to a lack of heating, cooling, and ventilation. In the neighborhoods, the gun violence and housing instability make the day to day lives our students even more treacherous; Philadelphia’s children are being asked to do too much! Collectively, teachers and parents have to demand better for our kids. 

But there are steps we can take to get what schools need. Ending the 10-year tax abatements, demanding an increase in social workers and counselors in schools, and pushing for an eradication of lead and asbestos in ALL schools can be accomplished if we work in unison. We want to bring together people in the city who are ready to take action. 

On Monday December 10th, join us from 4:30-6:30pm at The U School (2000 N. 7th street). The school is easily accessible via bus 3, 47, regional rail and the BSL. There will be speakers, snacks, and real ways to get involved. Click here to RSVP and share on social media.

Childcare will be provided.

Email us at [email protected] with any questions.

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Parents Speak Out From "The Most Toxic School In Philadelphia"

As an elementary school crossing guard, Kenya Cannon takes children’s safety very seriously. Everyday, she shepherds students across her intersection and into Cassidy Elementary School, where they should be safe. But over the past year, Kenya has learned that Cassidy Elementary School is not a safe place for students or adults.

Last spring, the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that Cassidy is “perhaps the most toxic school in the Philadelphia system,” with elevated levels of lead, asbestos, and other asthma triggers. The report helped her make sense of the serious asthma attacks her son had been suffering, and she decided to transfer him to a different school with a safer building. His condition has improved considerably since starting at the new school.

But Kenya continues to worry about the hundreds of children who cross the street and enter Cassidy each day. How is the lead dust and asbestos affecting their short-term and long-term health? Why isn’t the School District taking action to protect students’ safety?

Determined to speak out on behalf of the children in her charge, Kenya signed up to testify at the November Board of Education action meeting. During the first snowstorm of the season last Thursday, she braved the snow and ice and spent two hours battling traffic in order to appear at the meeting. Arriving just after 6pm, she found that the meeting had ended early due to the weather, and she had lost her chance to speak before the Board. Here is what she planned to say:

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What are Philly educators doing on Election Day?

Working Educators believes in grassroots organizing to get politicians in office that will support public education. The outcome of tomorrow's election will have an enormous impact on Philadelphia's public schools, and on PFT members. Pennsylvania's future governor and state legislature will be making big decisions about our ability to organize as a union and collectively bargain. They will make decisions about school privatization and whether or not to give away precious education dollars in the form of vouchers to private schools. And most importantly, they will make decisions about school funding! 

Pennsylvania is 49th in the country for the percentage of school funding that comes from the state.  To make it even worse, the money that is being distributed is going at a LOWER rate to students of color across the state of Pennsylvania. We must vote for legislators who will increase funding for education and demand that ALL funding go through PA's fair funding formula. WE hope you will cast your vote for Senator Bob Casey, Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman in order to ensure more equitable funding for our schools and to protect our rights to unionize. 

There are many other amazing candidates to vote for in this electoral cycle, including many new candidates that are trying to flip PA state legislative seats blue for the first time in years! The educators and parents on WE's Political Committee sat down to talk to many of them about their political beliefs concerning education, and we are happy to ask you to vote for the following candidates:

-Mike Doyle (170th Pennsylvania House District)

-Elizabeth Fiedler (184th Pennsylvania House District)

-Joe Hohenstein (177th Pennsylvania House District)

-Mary Isaacson (175th Pennsylvania House District)

-Chris Rabb (200th Pennsylvania House District)

-James Roebuck (188th Pennsylvania House District)

-Kristin Seale (168th Pennsylvania House District)

Want to see how Philly educators will be spending their time to get out the vote? Last year we encouraged PFT members and our allies to run to be committee people, the very backbone of the Philadelphia Democratic establishment. Committee people are responsible for turning out the vote, but that also means they have the power to vote for candidates that are committed to public education. And WE won big! 

Here is how some of our members are flexing their newfound political muscle:

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Why Would the GOP Attack A Philly Teacher?

Two weeks ago, the chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party made an unsubstantiated attack on Central High School History Teacher Tom Quinn.

His claim? That Tom was attempting the "liberal indoctrination" of his students.

The evidence? A grainy single photograph of a flyer that Quinn was accused of distributing. 

The district did its due diligence investigating the "incident," and now Quinn is finally free to set the record straight. In his opinion piece for the Inquirer, he sets the record straight about that supposed flyer and gets to the heart of the attack:


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Philly Youth Vote! Let's get every eligible high school senior to the polls!

See our updated page: Philly Youth VOTE 2020! What would happen if 8,000 Philly teens showed up?


Philly needs to vote! Only 16.74% of eligible city residents showed up at the polls in the last election. A strong turnout of Philly youth and families on Election Day can have a great impact on our city and the state, especially during midterm and primary elections when so few people vote. On November 6th, we will cast ballots for US Congress, Governor, PA Legislators, and other offices. Teachers need to make sure every eligible senior registers to vote AND shows up to the polls. The best civics education is one that shows students they CAN make a difference!

Here's the 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 instructions and voter registration forms to GET EVERY SENIOR TO VOTE!

We'll also connect you with INSPIRE U.S. 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). 


September 1st - 14th: Register High School Seniors to Vote!

Recruit a team of student leaders. Have them sign with the citywide youth voting campaign Vote That Jawn!

Download a student spreadsheet from SchoolNet and sort by birth date. See download instructions here.

If students will be 18 by November 6th, 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: Collect the cell phone numbers of students that register. This will be critical for student-led GOTV text messages on Election Day. Bring along 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 (or not). 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 paper forms in 12 languages you can send home with students:


September 15th-October 1st: Hand Deliver or Mail Paper Registration Forms  

Deadline Alert: Registration forms must be received by the Voter Registration Office by October 9th, so mail in plenty of time to get there.

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

It takes about 2 weeks for the City Commissioners office to process registrations 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 29th - November 5th: Have Students Find Their Polling Places.

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 6th: 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 7th - Look at the election returns with your students!

Did we make a difference?


Other contacts to help with Voter Registration in Schools:

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!

Inspire U.S.  - Working in schools to develop student-led teams to register their peers and get them to vote. Participating students and schools are eligible to win the Governor's Civic Engagement Award.

SEAMAAC Hip Hip Heritage program will visit high schools does voter registration and GOTV assemblies. Contact Andy Toy.

State Representative Chris Rabb has offered to visit schools for nonpartisan voter advocacy. He's also proposed a voting rights bill that would allow 16 & 17 year-olds to preregister! Call or text his cell: 717-512-5310

Youth United for Change VOTA! registration campaign

Vote That Jawn! - A citywide teen voter registration campaign. Form teams and register for the September 22nd 2-4pm kickoff event! Contact Lorene Cary.

Committee of Seventy Election Ambassador Corps recruits high school students to volunteer as nonpartisan poll watchers on Election Day. Students can earn community service hours and learn about the electoral process.

Just Act, Go Vote: A People's Jam on Justice - An arts event to register young people to vote: September 17, 6:30pm. Register Here.


Do you have other ideas or resources to get the student and family vote out? Send an email to Tom Quinn.