This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Sept. 20, 2018, was Day One of our term: “Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò sworn in as the first student board representatives on the Philadelphia Board of Education in 17 years.”
For us, this meeting was the beginning of a 10-month test, both of ourselves and of how students would contribute when given seats on the governing body of one of the largest and most complex school districts in the country. The issues we would have to deal with presented no simple solutions, and our appointments came with no guarantee of thanks or success.
Immediately, we were faced with the challenge that our position had no template or expectations. We could not ride on the work or respect of previous officeholders. We knew our actions would have to be deliberate and our determination steadfast.
We decided that we would fill our year by reaching a diverse group of our peers within the district. We selected and visited 11 schools, representative of the different schools and diverse neighborhoods of the city. In total, these schools served nearly one-quarter (16,000) of Philadelphia’s high school population. We listened carefully to each person in each of these visits as they presented their individual experiences in the District. By visiting schools, we maximized our greatest asset — that as students, we are affected by every single vote and discussion of the board.
Until now, many have passed over our views because we are “just kids.” We have everything and nothing on the line, because what our schools provide or don’t provide will directly affect our futures and our opportunities. Our education can open doors for our futures, or it can lead us to dead ends.
It is now July, and our term as student representatives has come to a close. In a few short weeks, we will begin as college students, and our position on the District’s governing body will be handed off to the next generation of student leaders.
To those future leaders, we want to say that this experience has filled us with hope. There are incredible things happening in the School District of Philadelphia, and as students and families, it is our moment now to seize the opportunity, share our views, and accelerate this change.
Progress in this city will happen only when we work together toward the common goals of equity and opportunity in our schools. This is only possible with students and adults working hand in hand.
Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò were the 2018-19 student representatives on the Philadelphia Board of Education.