This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Discussions about Philadelphia public schools often get bogged down in the seemingly never-ending back-and-forth over funding and the hyper-focus things that are easy to measure, such as standardized-test scores.
But for the 200,000-plus students attending public school in the city, these issues often take a back seat to the heartache and stress that many wrestle with in their personal lives.
To give students a forum to grow as a community of listeners, one public high school recently took a two-day break from curriculum to focus on a simple, yet powerful prompt:
"If you really knew me, this is what you’d know."
That was the impetus of Freire Charter School’s recent "Take Back the City" event.
After brainstorming on the first day, the second day brought students bravely volunteering to stand before hundreds of their peers and share some of the most intimate, emotionally wrenching details of their inner lives.
Freire, located on Chestnut Street in Center City, doesn’t have an auditorium big enough to hold its entire student body, so the event was set at the First Unitarian Church, a block up the street.
In the church’s stained-glass-tinted light, students, faculty members, and even neighbors came together to share story after personal story in the name of empathic understanding.