This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Each year, dozens of nonprofits and public school principals gather for a ritual that looks kind of like a well-lit version of speed dating. There are long rows of tables, roving herds of unmatched candidates, and even some awkward small talk.
But instead of talking about settling down and having kids, the conversations are about helping kids.
Welcome to the School District of Philadelphia’s annual Partnership Fair, a chance for principals and nonprofits to see whether they can work together.
This year’s version featured about 50 organizations, each with its own pitch and literature. A few even offered bowls of candy to draw interest.
They’re all hoping to catch the eye of building administrators, each of whom is looking for something different.
Marlita Thorn, assistant principal at John B. Kelly School in Germantown, took a special interest in an organization offering grief counseling because, she says, so many students at her school lose a friend or relative to violence.
"Our community is losing so many people so quickly, the children, they don’t know how to grieve," said Thorn. "I would love to have someone come into the school and talk to the children and show them how to channel those emotions."
Laurena Tolson, the principal at West Philadelphia’s Add B. Anderson Elementary School, zeroed in on the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, which offers Model United Nations and other similar activities. Tolson wants to close what she calls the "exposure gap." More than eight in 10 Anderson students are classified economically disadvantaged, so they can’t always pay to sign up for extracurricular activities the way kids in wealthier neighborhoods do.
"We spend a lot of time thinking about the achievement gap and not necessarily always thinking about the resources and opportunities to fill that exposure gap so that our students are competitive within the city of Philadelphia and across our world," Tolson said.