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Students remember Saturday school at Promise Academies

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

by Katrina Morrison

During the school year, on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m., you might find Saadiyah Jones asleep at home while Glenika Creese walks into her Saturday morning advisory period.

The idea that two Philadelphia School District students have different Saturday mornings may seem typical. But these students are not just two students in the District. They are two students who attend the same Promise Academy, University City High School. Until the District’s recent decision to cut Saturday sessions to help close the budget gap, Promise Academy students were required to attend Saturday programming.

According to the two students, despite these mandates, not all students attended.

Jones, a member of University City’s 2011 graduating class, did not attend a single Saturday session.

“I don’t get up (early) on Saturdays,” she said. “I never went.”

Jones was encouraged to attend so she could use the time and space to work on her senior project. But she had already completed much of the work she needed to do.

“I see it as pointless. I am graduating. I passed all my classes. That’s making us stay in school (and) who wants to come to school on a Saturday?”

Jones’ attitude helps explain the recently published finding that Saturday schools have low attendance. In its first year as a Promise Academy, University City High’s average attendance for Saturday programming was 48 percent from October to May.

Low attendance at Saturday school has received attention not only because students are missing out on enriching activities, but also because Saturday school, along with extended school days that were the initial hallmarks of the Promise initiative, incur additional costs for a district facing an unprecedented budget deficit.

If students do not attend, it brings into question whether it is worth keeping Saturday school as it is or to explore other educational options as Renaissance efforts move into year two.

Earlier this week, the School District of Philadelphia – amid outrage from parents and educators – announced the elimination of Saturday school at its six existing and three new Promise Academies. It also decided to scale back the extended school day to four days.

This restructuring is expected to save the District $17.7 million, helping to close a $35 million gap left after the state approved its final budget, but students like Creese stand to miss out on the benefits that the Saturday programming offered.

Creese, a rising senior, said Saturday school was very useful because “you have a better chance of understanding the material (learned in classes over the week) and you are able to have a one on one with the teacher.”

Creese added that she looked forward to field trips, which included visits to local colleges and universities like Drexel, University of Pennsylvania, and Temple and cultural sites like the art museum. Both Jones and Creese noted that students faced no consequences for skipping the Saturday sessions. Yet, there were several ways staff tried to persuade students to come.

They said that faculty used rallies and announcements to get the word out about Saturday school. Jones said one incentive was that students could receive their TransPasses on Saturday if they came to class. But rather than attend, she would wait until Monday to retrieve her bus pass.

Creese mentioned that over the school week, faculty would advertise trips or parties that would be held on Saturdays. Still, Creese mentioned that in the sessions she attended – which were all but two – there was not a large showing.

“About 30 percent would come” she estimated.

“Some students don’t want to come to Saturday school because they’d rather hang with their friends,” she said.

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