This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
How often does Notebook member Robin Roberts read the publication?
“All the time,” she said.
An education advocate in Philadelphia and the mother of three children in District schools, Roberts became a Notebook member in 2013. She said that she relies on the publication for nearly all education news.
“The Notebook is where I get most of my information,” she said.
“I love the way the Notebook will take an idea, they will research the information, and will come back with a balanced view of what is going on.”
Growing up in the Midwest, Roberts lived in Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and Missouri before moving to Pennsylvania in the 1990s. She said that she was aware of her parents’ efforts to give her and her siblings access to a quality education throughout her childhood.
“I feel like I’ve gotten an excellent education,” she said. “But I do understand that my parents made sacrifices by moving to better school districts, making sure that we were always in the suburbs. They made sacrifices for us to get a good education.”
When her family moved from Missouri to Strasburg, PA, about 20 years ago, Roberts came to Philadelphia to study at Temple University. There, she received her master’s and doctoral degrees in physical therapy in 1998 and 2007 respectively, as well as a master’s of business administration in 2006. She works as a physical therapist and lives in Mount Airy.
Roberts, 44, discovered the Notebook around a decade ago, while deciding where to send her eldest son after he finished kindergarten.
“I was trying to read everything I could,” she said. “This was the publication for schools. Through the stories in the Notebook, I felt more comfortable sending him to public school.”
Early on, Roberts said that what drew her to the publication was the objectivity of its reporting.
“There are too many times the flavor of what is reported is reflected by who owns it,” she explained.
“The Notebook is something that is tangibly education-focused – not pro-charter, not pro-public, but gives a balanced view. It’s reliable. I can say to a parent, ‘The Notebook had this information in it, you should look at it.’”
Now, two of Roberts’ three children attend Carver High School of Engineering & Science and the other attends Charles W. Henry Elementary School in Mount Airy. Roberts said that her desire for the District’s children and her own to have access to a good education is a large part of what motivates her advocacy work.
“It’s why I stay so active,” she said.
“I feel like the educational time we have with our kids is fleeting. So we need to make sure it is as positive and as fulfilling and as equal as anyone else’s.”
Roberts is a member of Parents United for Public Education, a citywide organization that raises awareness about the budget process and how it affects school funding, and Opt-Out Philly, an organization campaigning for parents’ rights to remove their children from standardized exams.
She is also the past president of the C.W. Henry Home and School Association, and of the C.W. Henry Parent-Teacher Association.
Roberts said that her advocacy work centers around giving parents the resources to make decisions about their children’s education.
“It’s about empowering parents,” she said. “Making sure that they understand what the budget process is all about. Making sure that they know how to advocate for their school and what their children need.”
She added that the Notebook plays a vital role in keeping parents informed, and that by presenting some of its articles in Spanish, the paper targets its content to a broader readership.
But it’s not just parents and educators who Roberts believes can benefit from reading the Notebook. She said that she hoped the publication would also be read by students.
“I think the students’ voice has a certain amount of strength that hasn’t been tapped,” she said.
“I think the Notebook is a great way for the students to understand what is going on in their District.”
Ultimately, Roberts said she believes that parents and teachers can work to ensure fair access to a quality education. Through reading the Notebook and learning about the education system, she said she hopes that parents will become more proactive in advocating for what their children need in the classroom.
“We can do what we have to do for the education of our kids,” Roberts said.
“Finding coalition, finding people who will think and act sort of similarly, even though you may have completely different views – that’s what’s important. Having a balanced publication like the Notebook, I think, really does help that.”
Catherine Offord is an intern at the Notebook.