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Grants boost five Philly organizing groups

Five organizing groups in Philadelphia were major recipients of support this year from a group of local and national funders as part of a new national initiative to strengthen education organizing. Here are profiles of the groups.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Student Union

Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) provides leadership training to Philadelphia high school students, who organize to ensure that every student gets a quality education.

History: Philadelphia high school students founded PSU in 1995.

Membership: PSU is managed by students and has trained over 600 student leaders in public speaking, outreach, working with the media, and community organizing over the past five years.

Accomplishments: PSU won a commitment from the District for the replacement of West Philadelphia High School with four small schools and campaigned successfully for the creation of Student Success Centers, which combine counseling, tutoring, case-management, mentoring, and college guidance services, in 10 comprehensive high schools.

Activities: During weekly chapter meetings at each high school, meetings of student representatives, Saturday leadership development programs, and summer training sessions, members learn about the history of public education, analyzing the root causes of social problems and the problems in their schools.

Contact Info: Nijmie Dzurinko at nijmie@phillystudent union.org, or 215-546-3290; www.phillystudentunion.org

Youth United for Change

Students from five Philadelphia neighborhood high schools lead Youth United for Chance (YUC) in organizing to develop youth leadership and address concerns about their schools and communities.

History: YUC was founded in 1991 by a group of teenagers and adults to address root causes of drug abuse and other negative youth behavior. It adopted a community organizing model and shifted its focus to improving educational opportunities for Philadelphia students.

Membership: More than 300 high school students per year – from Edison, Kensington, Mastbaum, Strawberry Mansion, and Olney – participate in YUC’s chapter meetings, leadership trainings, and retreats.

Accomplishments: After observing other small school models across the country, YUC successfully campaigned to divide Kensington High School into four small schools (one is scheduled for construction), and continues to demand resources for these schools that are comparable to the resources Center City small schools have.

Activities: Other campaigns focus on increasing college access and promoting quality vocational education.

Contact Info: Andi Perez at andi@yucyouth.org or Helen Rowe at helen@yucyouth.org, 215-423-9588.

Philadelphia ACORN

Philadelphia ACORN organizes low- and moderate-income families to promote social justice and better neighborhoods.

History: Philadelphia ACORN, founded in 1977, is a local chapter of the nation’s largest organization of working class families. In 2002, local ACORN members voted to add education to the group’s traditional housing focus.

Membership: There are currently 13,000 members who come from 13 Philadelphia neighborhoods. In order to build statewide capacity, ACORN has expanded to include chapters in low- and moderate-income southeastern Pennsylvania townships, such as Norristown, Pottstown, and Coatesville.

Accomplishments: It has trained parent organizers; won improvements in library facilities; improved District accountability for resources in the most impoverished schools; developed a one-year pilot, Acorns to Oaks, with the teachers’ union for new teacher training; and proposed a one-year tuition support program for paraprofessionals to earn college degrees. It has become the largest of Philadelphia’s independent parent organizing groups.

Activities: Current educational issues are teacher quality, school finance, and school safety.

Contact Info: Ali Kronley at paacorn@acorn.org or 267-408-5582.

Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project

Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP) works to empower communities by making streets safer, improving city services, providing greater educational opportunities for young people and adults, and encouraging region-wide dialogue and public and private reinvestment in neighborhoods.

History: EPOP was founded in 1993 as a faith-based neighborhood organization focusing on building power through leadership development on education and neighborhood revitalization issues.

Membership: Members include 25 churches, schools, and other community institutions, and more than 50,000 families from across the city.

Accomplishments: Citywide, EPOP has successfully organized with other groups to promote full-day kindergarten and ensure $12 million in Title I funds stay with the poorest schools. EPOP parents recently won a District commitment to construct a new Willard School. EPOP was also instrumental in founding Youth United for Change.

Activities: EPOP continues to organize around bilingual education, reading, safety, capital expenditures, teacher quality, and small schools.

Contact Info: Allen Stevens at epopleaders@earthlink.net or 215-634-8922.

Good Schools Pennsylvania

Good Schools Pennsylvania informs and mobilizes citizens at the grassroots level around improving educational opportunities for all students and ensuring equitable funding of all school districts.

History: Good Schools was formed in 2001, originally as a project of the Public Education Network, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Council of Churches.

Membership: Good Schools has a statewide membership base of 14,000 adults and youth organized in Groups of Ten, college chapters, and high school groups.

Accomplishments: Good Schools, the Education Law Center, and Education Policy and Leadership Center advocated successfully for the Pennsylvania legislature to conduct a statewide costing-out study to determine “the basic cost per pupil to provide an education that will permit students to meet the state’s academic standards and assessments.” The study, to be released in November, is a step toward fixing Pennsylvania’s school funding formula.

Activities: Good Schools engages citizens in forums, legislator meetings, state capital rallies, and other strategies to advance its policy agenda.

Contact Info: Janis Risch at janis@goodschoolspa.org or 215-332-2700; www.goodschoolspa.org.

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