Deionni Martinez, 16, says those cutting back arts programs don't understand that, without these programs, "The drop-out rate is going to go sky-high."
Last night, at a vigil ahead of today's start of school, students said they weren't sure what they were going back to — or what, even was the point, given the deep cuts to the arts and extracurricular programs many of them care deeply about. Some even predicted that dropout rates will skyrocket if programs like arts education and extracurriculars aren't restored in the Philadelphia School District.
Students from Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School who are members of Youth United for Change say they've been told their dance program, band and art classes are all gone, and that music education has been cut. "They cut all the things that make our school what it is and what it's supposed to be," said Deionni Martinez, 16, a 10th-grader at Kensington CAPA. Martinez plays the clarinet, and last year got two hours of practice a day, plus occasional one-on-one instruction with music educators. "People go to school looking forward to these things and they're all taken away. The whole point of going to school is to do the things you love to do, and now that's being taken from us."
Martinez says the consequences could be devastating.
"People last year when they found out about the budget cuts, they were like, 'If they cut this, this and that, I'm dropping out. There's no point in coming back.' Some of these kids that are in these art programs are not the best at academic subjects. … The drop-out rate is gonna go sky high, and the poeple who are doing this to us don't understand that. These art programs mean so much to us." Other students, she says, have already transfered into charter schools.
Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools and Fight for Philly organized the rally outside Gov. Tom Corbett's Philadelphia office on Broad Street. Also present were current and retired teachers, including Diane Payne, a 23-year veteran of Mayfair Elementary who retired early in June "because of money and politics. … After the disrespect we were facing, I didn't think I could be fair to my children." She said the "constant negative pressure," the pointing of fingers at teachers and the "contrived crisis" in the district were just too much for her to deal with.
Teachers were being rehired as recently as Friday to schools across the city. So as of last night, Martinez still wasn't clear what she was walking into. "You don't know what you're going into, how it's going to be."
Other students have even more reason for trepidation than Martinez. Benny Ramos, 17, is going into 10th grade at Kensington CAPA after his previous school, Charles Carroll High, closed in June. "I built a family at Charles Carroll," he says. "I knew everyone. I could go to the janitor even and talk about what was going on at home. Now, I have to build a family again." He says he's an artist, but freshmen didn't get to take art at Carroll. Now, he won't get the class at CAPA either. "What is the point of a going to high school [without those classes] to learn a skill?" he wants to know. "How are you going to go to college?"
Zach Kaufmann, 17, is also making the move from Carroll to Kensington CAPA. He's a musician; he can play guitar but was hoping to learn to read music at school this year. "Now, with the school district cutting back music, this basically defeated my whole purpose."
Kaufmann is used to fighting losing battles with the District: He got involved with Youth United for Change in the effort to keep Carroll open. But still, he was incredulous that, as students are returning to class, so many cuts remain in place. "I thought it would be resolved by the end of the summer. I thought we would have to do less fighting, but now we have to do more."
"You shouldn't have to protest to have your basic rights. You shouldn't have to protest to learn to read music. You shouldn't have to protest to get your counselor back, just so you can talk to them. You shouldn't have to fight for these things. That stuff is not a privilege — that's a right."
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