This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
For Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, a Notebook co-founder and current member, working in education is more than her profession. It’s personal. Some might say it’s in her DNA.
Nichols-Solomon says her mother, Mamie Nichols, a community activist and education enthusiast, was her neighborhood’s source of education information back in a time before online news. She grew up knowing that education was important and that parents had a role to play in it.
That’s why, years later as a program officer for the community-focused Philadelphia Foundation, Nichols-Solomon recognized that the education data and reports she was reading needed to reach a larger audience.
“I would say to myself, ‘…The people that are doing this work, they don’t have this research,’” Nichols-Solomon said.
She said that the creation of the Notebook, which launched in 1994, helped get this type of information out to the public.
“You have to have some trusted source that you can go to to try to unpack what that looks like, and I think the Notebook does that,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily give you all of the answers, but it helps you formulate the questions you should be asking.”
She served on the first Notebook advisory board, and in 2013, came back to the Notebook, joining its board of directors. In between, she consistently made annual donations.
Born and raised in South Philadelphia as one of six children, Nichols-Solomon, like her siblings, attended the neighborhood school, Childs Elementary. For junior high school, they left their neighborhood to go to Tilden, where their mother felt they could receive a better education.
They had to take three buses to get to school and even found a way to go during a strike that shut the buses down, but Nichols-Solomon said her parents were dedicated to their children’s education.
When her brother’s high school recommended that he be placed on a “modified track,” which would have earned him a certificate rather than a diploma, Nichols-Solomon said her mother balked.
“If my mother had allowed [the school] to put him in Modified, it would not have been an option for him to go back and take courses and go to college,” she said. That brother is now a dentist.
Nichols-Solomon said that her brother’s experience influenced her decision to work in education and become passionate about post-secondary success for students. After graduating from South Philadelphia High, she earned a degree in elementary education from Cheyney University. She moved into teaching all age levels outside of traditional public school and then into running education programs for different organizations.
Now the director of post-secondary success at FHI 360, a human development organization, Nichols-Solomon’s work has focused on programs that improve the college-going rates and success for underserved students.
The Notebook’s annual fall guide, which describes all District and charter high schools, stands out to Nichols-Solomon. She said that she appreciates how the Notebook digs into the information, making it easily accessible for families.
“I think we should always be learning and getting new information and thinking about new ways of doing things,” she said.
“That’s what gets me up in the morning, and I think the Notebook is being thoughtful about that kind of thing.”
Shannon Nolan is an intern at the Notebook.