This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At first glance, it’s impossible to tell a big experiment is happening inside the preschool program at FitzPatrick Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia.
Because, as administrator James Cupit says, everything here looks almost exactly the same as it did last school year.
"I don’t think there’s lots of evident differences," Cupit said as a group of students nibbled on wheat crackers and yogurt cups. "Kids are happy. They’re having their snacks. Everybody enjoying their snack?"
Cupit strolled over to a nearby desk and pulled out a "meal and snack form" with each student’s name and a number listed in corresponding columns. Students whose families live at the poverty line or below are coded with a "6." Students from slightly wealthier families have a "7" or "8" next to their names.
It’s a boring, bureaucratic document intended, as Cupit put it, to tell "the person paying for those meals this is who’s having the meals and this is how much." The sheet is also, in this rare case, a window into the potentially groundbreaking changes happening at the FitzPatrick public school.