This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Media Mobilizing Project, a media group focused on support for organizing to end poverty, launched the fifth installment of its video series Revival from the Roots in April with a look at Willard Elementary in Kensington.
The series provides an inside look at successful neighborhood schools in Philadelphia. Though Willard is in one of Philadelphia’s poorest communities, it provides an expanded curriculum, wraparound supports for families, and deep community engagement.
Revival from the Roots follows Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan and parent activist and City Council candidate Helen Gym as they tour the schools and speak to District students, teachers, staff, parents, and caregivers about the state of their schools.
Willard serves a diverse and struggling population, including a large number of English language learners.
“Seventy-five percent of our students are Latino,” said school counselor Maria Bronte in the video.
“So a lot of our families are having [been] in the United States for not a long period of time. They’re still trying to become used to the language, the culture, and there is a lack of knowledge in terms of community resources. So my job is not only to try to help them navigate the School District system, but to try to get them connected to resources in the community that they might not be knowledgeable of.”
Like many District schools, Willard has suffered as a result of massive budget cuts, losing a full-time nurse and librarian. But it does have music, arts, and physical education programs. And parents are stepping in to fill some of the gaps. Yarelis Morales, a parent and an emergency medical technician, volunteers two days a week because Willard does not have a nurse.
Willard is also one of a handful of District schools that is moving toward the community school model, providing extracurricular activities and health care services. Principal Ron Reilly said that the Eagles Eye Mobile visits every year to screen students for glasses. The school also uses its auditorium and conference room as makeshift dentist offices when the Ronald McDonald House stops by to provide dental work for students.
“Willard is just an amazing school. It’s a school that all of the teachers are very happy to work in. The principal has tremendous pride, and the parents love it,” Jordan said.
Reilly attributes the positivity to a dedicated and consistent staff that “has been around for years.”
The Revival from the Roots series has also featured West Philadelphia High School and Lea, Barry, Penn-Alexander, Steel, Muñoz-Marín, and the now-closed Wilson Elementary Schools.
Media Mobilizing Project co-director Rebekah Scotland said the series illustrates that “public schools in struggling neighborhoods can be places of innovation, academic success, transformation and strong community-building.”
To see the series, visit Media Mobilizing Project.