This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Ever since education advocate Shanee Garner-Nelson started reading the Notebook, it has never been far from her side. She has used it for most of her adult life to inform and guide her work in public education.
“If you do education work in the city, you cannot do your job without reading the Notebook,” said Garner-Nelson, co-director of education policy at Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
Garner-Nelson, who has worked at PCCY for the past two years, remembers her first introduction to the Notebook in 2007. At the time she worked as an organizer with the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project and was involved in efforts to pressure the District to build a new facility for the century-old Frances E. Willard Elementary School in Kensington. EPOP’s campaign for a new Willard actually got its start back in the 1990s. By 2010, all the advocacy efforts had finally paid off with the opening of a new Willard school.
“The Notebook covered our efforts, outlining the delays – and equally important, quotes from parents,” she recalled. “That type of coverage goes a long way in that it serves as accountability.”
Struck by the Notebook’s dedication to reporting on the education issues that matter most to Philadelphians, Garner-Nelson, now 27, began volunteering on the Notebook’s editorial board to discuss how to shape the stories for each print edition.
“My first experience working with the Notebook was on one of the dropout issues. It’s where I met Shelly Yanoff, the legend who would be my future boss some years later,” she said.
Yanoff served as PCCY’s executive director for more than two decades, retiring from the organization in fall 2012.
In 2008, Garner-Nelson, a 2003 graduate of West Philadelphia High School who also attended Masterman, took a position teaching English at Bartram High School. Once again, she used the Notebook in her work.
“I would teach dropout issues in Bartram to my 10th graders, especially on those days when I had curriculum fatigue,” she said. “To engage students around [issues like] the school-to-prison pipeline or budget cuts shows them that you care.”
Garner-Nelson also taught at Kensington Urban Education Academy before joining the staff of PCCY in 2011. It was also that year that she became a Notebook member.
“I became a member because I think the Notebook has the most thorough and thoughtful journalism in the city. In the days of sound bites, fads, and gimmicky trends in education, the Notebook resists the urge to conform,” said Garner-Nelson.
“We have a chance to support work that is critical to our community. By not becoming a member, we risk allowing this important resource to be crowded out. So I joined because I don’t want to wake up one day and learn that the Notebook is not around because some foundation decided real reporting wasn’t on their agenda.”