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Film and a photo exhibition about school closings debut at Scribe Center

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

by Naveed Ahsan

Videographer Amy Yeboah premiered her films Goodbye to City Schools and (Re) Inscribing Meaning on Wednesday night at the Scribe Video Center. The screenings followed the opening of an exhibit of photos by Philadelphia School Closings Photo Collective, a project curated by photographers Katrina Ohstrom and Melissa Holman, which showcases images taken in the spring of 2013 by 10 photographers, including Notebook photographer Harvey Finkle.

Goodbye to City Schools focuses on four of the 24 Philadelphia District schools that closed in June. (Re) Inscribing Meaning is about the choices that African American families make regarding their children’s education.

It was standing room only as educators and others interested in the school-closings debate filled the center.

Goodbye to City Schools was produced over the summer with the help of the Notebook as part of Yeboah’s fellowship, which was sponsored by the Samuel S. Fels Fund. It tells the stories of Germantown High School, Bok Technical High School, Fairhill Elementary School, and University City High School. The film was shot during the last days of each school and includes interviews with staff, students, principals, families, and community members.

“How do we say goodbye?” said Yeboah during her presentation. Yeboah holds two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree in African American studies from Temple University.

“How do we say goodbye to these schools that were not opened overnight and closed the next day? They’ve been here for years.”

Yeboah’s second film, (Re)Inscribing Meaning, also garnered a lot of interest. In making the documentary, Yeboah said she tried to answer the question, “How do we educate our children?”

“During my dissertation work, I started looking at the achievement gap, particularly with African Americans, and the question was, ‘What if we didn’t go to public schools at all?’ What if they were closed?”

“Historically for African Americans, there was a time when we weren’t allowed into public schools, so how we educate our children is the question.”

Jonas Brinkley, one of the photographers who participated in the school-closings photo project, said Philadelphia’s current educational situation is problematic for young families. He has a 3-year-old son and is now scouting the options for his education.

“Good public schools in Philadelphia are very limited,” Brinkley said.

“We’re sort of involved in trying to get more funding for schools," he said, "and being in City Hall and Council meetings to … say our piece."

Naveed Ahsan is an intern at the Notebook.

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