This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Mark McHugh
The District’s annual High School Expo, an event designed to help students and parents navigate the high school selection process, has been canceled this year.
According to the District’s Office of Communications, the District has decided not to hold the event as a cost-saving measure.
The elimination of the event, which cost the District $137,000 last year, is part of a 30 percent reduction in the central administration budget that cut that portion of the overall District budget to 2 percent.
The expo, which was held at District headquarters last year, provides families with information about District and charter high school options, including details regarding specific programs at each school and the admission requirements. But with no expo this year, students and parents will have to find alternative ways to help guide them through the high school selection process.
Diane Phillips, a counselor at Taggart Elementary who encourages 7th and 8th graders to attend the expo, said the loss of the event will make the selection process “a disaster.”
Superintendent William Hite said that in restoring school counselors to schools, he plans to prioritize high schools so that seniors have support from people who know them as they apply to college. The fate of middle-grade counselors is still up in the air if Hite doesn’t get the funds to call back all 300 counselors who were laid off.
“Without having the school counselors in place to help with the process, the expo would have been the only thing in place to help students and their families," Phillips said. "I know that without it, they’re going to be lost.”
She said that in past years, her school would provide buses to transport students to the event, and about 95 percent of the students at her school attended.
“It’s about establishing connections,” she said. “Students who didn’t do well in 7th grade could talk to a counselor at the table and learn about how to succeed in high school.”
The expo, which is targeted to 7th and 8th graders, and high school students who wish to transfer, has always been well-attended. Last year, the District estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 people attended. The year before that, the expo drew similar numbers of parents and students. When the event was held at the Liacouras Center in 2010, nearly 10,000 people came out.
Although the cancellation of the expo has some educators upset, the District’s chief of student support services, Karen Lynch, said that “the High School Expo was just one opportunity for students to research their high school options.” Lynch said she encourages students to tap into other available resources to help them make their high school selections.
“Students and parents also have access to the high school directory, which is electronically posted [on the District website] each fall,” she said.
Lynch also added that students and parents should visit the schools they’re considering.
“Visiting prospective schools gives the student an opportunity to have a full sensory experience in the school before they complete an application for admission,” she said.
Another resource that parents and students can use is the Notebook’s annual fall guide to high schools. This publication lists individual school profiles and data for the city’s more than 80 public school options, including enrollment, admission requirements, and extracurricular activities. Last year, the Notebook distributed about 6,000 copies of the fall guide at the High School Expo.
Although there are alternative resources that parents and students can pick up, Phillips still contends that scrapping the expo is a great cause for concern among students unsure of how to navigate the high school process.
“It’s not an easy process in the first place,” Phillips said.
“It’s going to be a really challenging process without these things in place.”
Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.
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