This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
Chrislie Dor, a budding poet at age 14, stands like poet Robert Frost’s narrator at a fork in the road.
The paths diverge not in a yellow wood, but instead the concrete jungle that is Philadelphia public education. Looking down one bend as far as she can, Chrislie sees the School District’s selective-admission magnet high schools. Looking down the other, she sees the city’s charter schools.
Other options — such as Chrislie’s District-run neighborhood high school — may be in the vicinity, but they don’t figure on her map.
She’s applied to the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), and Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP). If she’s not accepted to either of these schools, she’ll leave the District for a charter school.
Decision letters go out this week.
"Out of all of them, I really want to go to CAPA," she said. "I’ll be heartbroken if I don’t."
As she awaits her fate, in the balance hang not just Chrislie’s hopes and dreams, but, in many ways, the future of Philadelphia public schools.
For a district that’s seen enrollment decline by 25,662 students over the last five years, and payments to charter schools rise by more than $350 million in the same time period, moments like this can make all the difference.
The ties that bind
To know Chrislie Dor is to know her two older sisters. The three are as inseparable as the line of rowhomes framing their quiet East Oak Lane block.
Raised in a strict, single-parent household, the Dor sisters spend almost every waking moment of their free time together: joking around, contributing to each other’s poetry, harmonizing on church hymns.
"We just love singing," said Chrisla, 16, the middle sister, "like sometimes, we’re bored, somebody starts singing, then we all join together. … That’s really us."
It was Christie, 17, the eldest sister, an aspiring poet in her own right, who pushed her younger sister to hone her writing talent.
"She went even further than me and started exploring poetry and other writing," said Christie, "and then as I was reading them, I’m like, ‘She’s really good, like even better than me.’ Especially her poetry, they rhyme or they won’t rhyme, but they make absolute sense."
Onlookers can barely believe the sisters’ fondness for each other.
"Some people, especially at church, they’ll be like, ‘See, if that was my sister, I would not be talking to her,’" said Christie. "Usually, when we’re at other places, we’ll just huddle up and just talk. Sometimes we’re ignoring the other people and talking amongst ourselves, and they’re like, ‘I was never that close to my siblings.’"
If you’re thinking there’s a theme in the sisters’ names, you’d be right.
"It’s from ‘Chris’ and ‘Christ,’ God," explains Chrislie. "Mine means: ‘Christ can read,’ Chrisla is ‘Christ is always here,’ Christie is ‘Christ is medicine for everything."
The three moved from Orlando, Fla., to Philadelphia with their mother Bernadette in 2005 — seeking a fresh start after their father died of lung cancer.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, all three girls have proved hardworking, intelligent students. Each thrived in District-run elementary and middle schools.
"My daughters do something very, very, very good," said Bernadette in a thick Haitian accent. "All three, together, do something very, very, very well … very, very respectful children, too."
As high school approached for the elder two sisters, they stared down the same crossroads that Chrislie is now facing.