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‘Friends’ groups gather citywide to build support for neighborhood schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

About 125 parents and community members involved in supporting neighborhood schools throughout the city gathered Saturday to start the process of jointly advocating for Philadelphia public schools.

The Friends of Neighborhood Public Schools Summit, held in Center City, was initiated by Jeff Hornstein, Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition education committee co-chair and president of the Queen Village Neighbors Association. The Queen Village group supports neighborhood schools Meredith and Nebinger with volunteers and grant money.

Across the city, groups have sprung up, mostly calling themselves "Friends of" a particular school and consisting of parents, future parents, and other community members who recognize the value of having a strong public school in their neighborhood. Thirty such Friends groups were represented at Saturday’s gathering.

Hornstein, who does not have children, said he did not realize what school catchment he was moving into when he bought his home, but soon realized the importance of his community supporting the local schools. His goal in organizing the event, with members of other Friends groups, is to build a "network across the city of people who care about neighborhood schools."

At the event, participants attended workshops on topics such as navigating the District, working with school principals, and building a voice for neighborhood schools. Attendees spoke about the need to build a diverse coalition that includes schools in lower-income neighborhoods that are less likely to have a Friends group supporting them. The participants at the event recognized that the predominantly White gathering was not representative of the broader public school population and spoke about wanting to advocate for all schools to achieve equity in the District.

After the event, Hornstein said the summit’s organizers are focused on four tasks: producing resource materials to help Friends groups grow and prosper; creating a directory to facilitate networking; conducting outreach to grow and diversify the network; and developing a citywide advocacy strategy.

Lauren Wiley, the Notebook’s development director, is a member of the Friends of J.S. Jenks.

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