This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At the bottom rung of America’s education system, you will find someone like Sandie Knuth.
Knuth teaches English for adult learners on the 10th floor of a Center City office building, in a room of carpeted plainness that suits the invisibility of its inhabitants. The students in Knuth’s class are at varying levels of illiteracy, placed here because an entrance test found that they read below a 3rd-grade level.
They’re here because they think — despite years of setbacks and stacked odds — that they can earn the basic education promised to all Americans. Knuth’s task is to set them on the journey toward that distant goal.
Class begins at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in April.
At least that’s when it’s supposed to begin. There’s a 10-minute grace period for students to arrive — and about a 10-minute grace period informally tacked onto that grace period for those who straggle in even later.
As Knuth, 25, waits for everyone to show up, she scribbles a question on the whiteboard.
What do you hope to get out of class?