Category Archives: Youth

Parkside Education: Update

by Michael Burch

This article is a follow up to the discussion in the September issue of the Journal concerning “Education in Parkside.” Although Parkside has lost the long standing Leidy school due to budget cuts, our neighborhood is fortunate to have many other good schools within walking distance of one another. School choices in Parkside include Blankenburg Elementary, Global Leadership Academy, and The School of the Future. Now we can add two new schools to that list: Discovery Charter School (DCS) and the Kipp Dubois Collegiate Academy.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 4.33.43 PMAlthough the Discovery Charter School has been in Parkside for eleven years, the school has recently moved to a larger (and better equipped) facility on Belmont Avenue. The community was very supportive of this move, although there were some initial traffic flow problems. After DCS opened this September at its’ new location, commuting problems immediately developed. Traffic was congested near the school during morning drop off and afternoon pick up times. It was challenging and problematic transporting over 760 students in and out of the facility each school day. Excited parents parked in no parking zones, at bus stops, in the middle of the street, and even in front of the Fire station.

It was not surprising that neighbors living close to the school were very concerned and upset about this. To the credit of Discovery Charter School, the school’s leaders were very willing to meet with neighbors to discuss the situation. Public meetings were held with staff members, area residents, parents, fire and police officials. A solution to the school transportation problem was developed and implemented and now traffic flows in a relatively normal manner along Belmont Avenue during drop off and pickup times.

The Journal feels that this shows that Discovery Charter School plans to continue being the good neighbor it has been in Parkside over the past eleven years. A key factor about the DCS has been its’ basic educational philosophy in which its’ students have been seen as children of the world. With that philosophy in mind, an important goal of the school has been to extend the horizons of its’ students far beyond the confines of the traditional classroom. Students have had the opportunity to travel far beyond the immediate Parkside region and enjoy cultural events and institutions in cities like New York and Washington, D.C. The Discovery Charter School also sponsors biannual international trips for its senior students.

In the past, seventh or eight grade classes have traveled as far away as South Africa and Spain. This school year, the school plans to take a class to Germany. These ambitious and enriching travel experiences give these young people an opportunity to develop an international perspective they would not ordinarily have had

The second (and newest) school welcomed to our area is the Kipp Dubois Collegiate Academy. Kipp is part of a national system of 141 charter schools from across the country. The Kipp system is a national network of free open enrollment college preparatory public charter schools with a positive record of preparing students for college who live in underserved communities. There are four Kipp schools in Philadelphia; Kipp Dubois is the first high school Kipp has opened in the city.

Recently I visited the school and met with the founding principal Mr. Arron Bass. He gave me additional information about the school. They have been in Parkside at this location since August of this year. Currently they have 465 students enrolled and plan to have 565 students next year. They are an open enrollment school and take students from all over the city. Somewhat like Discovery School they also have a global view of educating students. They have already taken a class of students to Ghana and they plan more international trips in the future. Like most charter schools they are a lottery based school. While at the school I met with several of their students and took a short tour of a few classes. All the students I talked to had college plans in their future. I saw real education going on in the classrooms. Mr Bass informed me that they have partnerships with over 30 colleges and universities that work with them and accept Kipp graduates.

The Journal will endeavor to keep the community informed about the schools mentioned and about Discovery and Kipp in particular.


Please Touch Museum’s “Stories In Schools Program”

by Claudia Setubal 

Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia PA
Please Touch Museum(Photo credit: Jim, the Photographer)

Each fall, after students have settled into the routine of school, neighborhood schools get special visitors. The Please Touch Museum staff works with several local elementary schools and childcare centers to provide special literacy programming inside the classroom.

The visits are part of a program called “Stories In Schools,” that brings the Please Touch Museum’s signature brand of learning through play into classrooms throughout the Parkside neighborhood.

The program’s goal is to support teachers and schools by nurturing students’ love of .books and reading (from preschool through third grade). When a Please Touch Coordinator comes into the classroom, the students are eager and excited as they are exposed to a variety of enriching activities.

The children experience (1) dramatic games; (2) creative math, science, and music activities; (3) book reading; and (4) a final art project at the end of the lesson. The students get to know their PTM facilitator well over the course of the six- week program. At the end of the program, they receive books to take home and free passes to the Museum. The classroom teachers also receive a box of art supplies to continue the activities after the PTM coordinator leaves

The books used in the classroom are selected from outstanding classic and contemporary children’s literature as well as literary selections from the Please Touch Museum’s Book Award winners.

Children who participate in the program help select the Kids Choice Winner for the annual Please Touch Museum Award. Students are able to vote for their favorite book and are invited to participate in the Book Award Ceremony at the Museum.

The “Stories In Schools” program currently takes place at several schools in the Parkside neighborhood and surrounding areas including Belmont Academy Charter School, Rudolph Blankenburg Elementary School, Edward Heston Elementary School, St. Ignatius School, Martha Washington Elementary School, Discovery Charter School, and Heavenly Hall.

Any questions you may have about this program should be directed to me Claudia Setubal, Program Manager of Community Outreach, at 215-578-5133 or email me at

20th Anniversary PACTS Celebration

by Juanita Alexander

On October 3, 2013 the Franklin Institute‘s Partnerships For Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS) celebrated its’ 20th anniversary. PACTS offers middle and high school students a unique blend of science enrichment, mentoring, and leadership opportunities, especially those living in urban neighborhoods like Parkside.

Several alumni of the program, including keynote speaker Dr. Albert J. Hicks III, spoke passionately about the key role PACTS played in their lives as impressionable teenagers. They stressed the important influence of the program in their continued social and intellectual growth and career choices.

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 2.26.36 PMDuring the celebration program, an extensive interview was conducted with PACTS alumnus Jimmy Harmon. The mentoring aspect of PACTS was especially important to Harmon. He said that he regarded PACTS Director Mike Burch as “almost like a second father.” Harmon continued by comparing PACTS to a tree that “when its’ old leaves fall off, has space for new leaves to replace them.”

His comments keenly illustrate the importance of programs like PACTS for Philadelphia’s urban Youth. Harmon began by emphasizing that he “wasn’t even thinking about college before joining PACTS”, feeling that the military was his only sure path to social advancement. He described himself as a “shy teenager who had a real problem speaking in in public.” He said “I always had a problem speaking to more than one person (at a time).” He explained that with PACTS “I got a chance to express myself in a way that I never could before.” He fondly recalled the long conversations he had about Black history and the exposure he had to other social and scientific issues.

He regards the current teen members of PACTS as the “new leaves.” He stressed that they will only truly appreciate what PACTS has done for them after they have graduated from the program. “PACTS” is like gold,” concluded an enthusiastic Jimmy Harmon as he ended his interview.

PACTS Director Mike Burch, a Parkside native, expressed his determination to make the PACTS program more relevant and accessible to areas like Parkside. He stressed the close, integral relationship between Fairmount Park and the adjoining Parkside neighborhood. It is his goal to get Parkside Youth more involved in the environmental projects PACTS has planned in the near future in Fairmount Park

School Choices for Parkside

by Michael Burch
Even though Leidy Elementary School is closing permanently Blankenburg Elementary a public school, a public school, Parkside still has a great variety of schools for children in our area to attend. Parents should be aware of and pay close attention to these varied school choices as the new school year approaches.

Discovery Charter School has recently moved from it’s old location on Parkside Avenue to its’ new and current location on Belmont Avenue.

Discovery Charter will open its’ doors to students at this larger and better equipped location for the first time this September.

Discovery Charter School Under Construction at 4700 Parkside.
Discovery Charter School Under Construction at 4700 Parkside.

Within easy walking distance of Parkside Avenue is the Global Leadership Academy located at 4601 Girard Avenue. Global is another new school addition to our neighborhood. Right across the street from Global is Blankenburg Elementary School which has served this community since 1925. It was on the SRC “chopping block” but was spared and will open in the fall.

A more recent school addition in our area is the School of the Future. It literally sits in Fairmount Park. The School of the Future was built in 2008. During the five years of its’ existence, it has had its’ share of struggles and challenges.

There have been leadership changes and enrollment issues concerning the surrounding community. Hopefully, it appears that the school has solved or dealt with most of its’ “growing pains”. The editors of the JOURNAL are cautiously optimistic that this is true and that the SOF is on its’ way to a great future in Parkside.

Discovery’s old location has recently been taken over by another new school in the area, called Kipp Dubois Collegiate Academy. They are a Charter High school and are new to our area. We wish them well as they begin operation in Parkside.

Fallout from School Funding Crisis

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

As a citizen, I’m always among the first in line to cheer the work of our locally elected officials. With a minimum of public recognition, and a modest paycheck, they take on the 24/7 jobs of keeping our services running and our neighborhoods happy. But recently smiles turned into shock. How have our trusted leaders let the critical issue of school funding turn into the crisis it is today?

My life is a positive example of the powerful benefit of public education. I’ve been able to parlay the meaningful instruction from my Philadelphia Public School teachers into a career path that has taken me from the corners of West Philadelphia to the top corridors of corporate leadership in New York.

Despite these achievements, my heart still yearned to return the community’s investment in me; therefore, I’ve returned home to Philadelphia, enrolling my children in the Public School system and continuing the ecosystem that drives a thriving community. But will this funding shortage also short my kids of the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed?

“When you live in the city, as soon as you have your first kid, you start thinking about schools”, explained Brian Hackford, a co- owner of local business Keswick Cycles to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “You hope your district will get better. Instead it gets worse. Unless you have $35,000 a year [for] private school, at some point, you go, ‘I just can’t do this’.”

It sounds like his hope for educating his children in the city, and contributing to the ecosystem that keeps our city growing through positive schooling here has been broken.

That “burst bubble” is not Brian’s alone; it’s one that’s shared by my friends and the other parents I know who send their kids to school with mine. But that even brings up even more concern.

Because of my strong roots in the city, my family has decided to keep holding on and believing that things will get better. But ours is just one choice to stay. The same Inquirer story profiled two other families who have chosen to flee the city due to the lack of public educational choices for their children. Their choices sadden me. Could their children have been the classroom buddies that my kids will now never have the chance to meet?

Philadelphia Skyline
Philadelphia Skyline (Photo credit: Vlastula)

Maybe their sons, now moved to the ‘burbs, were the guys meant to take my daughters to their first school dances and proms, or even later become their colleagues at firms launched by their future creative wisdoms. They’re gone now, taking not only those possibilities with them, but also part of the strong tax base needed to help fund the good schools, and good teachers that keep the ecosystem of a growing city alive.

For me, the dream is still alive. But I need our elected officials to resolve this debate, and quickly deal with the problems facing public education. The educational futures of my children, and thousands of others depend on their choices today. Not only do I want a better future for them, but for all of the children who are counting on the system to get them to cap-and-gowns.

It’s not too late to put aside politics, and re-deliver hope through positive, assured funding for schools for families like mine. If delivering hope for my family is not enough, then at least consider Brian’s. His family has put their city townhouse up for sale. “We have an offer”, he sadly told The Inquirer. “And if it works out, we’re going.” That sounds like he”s not yet at closing, which leaves yet another chance for you (city officials) to change his and many other minds. We want to believe. Please deliver on the promise of better education for our children!

Education In Parkside: What lies Ahead?

by Michael Burch

What’s the state of education in Parkside? These days that’s a really good question to ask. Everyone knows that the Philadelphia School System has been under tremendous financial stress; so much so that they have closed 23 schools from across the city. One major causality of the school closings is Joseph Leidy School at the corner of Belmont and Leidy Ave. Leidy Elementary has sat on that corner for 51 years, educating students from the surrounding neighborhoods. This writer should know, because I was one of the first group of students to have attended kindergarten at Leidy. The school was named after the famed 19th century paleontologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Joseph Leidy. It might surprise many people to know that this is not the first Leidy School to sit in Parkside. Years before the current building was built in 1962, there stood just across the street on 42nd and Thompson stood the original Leidy School built sometime after 1880.

Old Leidy School (Source:
Old Leidy School (Source:

The kids in my neighborhood always referred to the original Leidy School affectionately as “Old Leidy”. The building stayed in operation until the completion of the current and now only) Leidy School was finished in 1962.

There was a brief attempt in the early 1970’s to convert “Old Leidy” into a middle school but that did not work. Eventually “Old Leidy” was torn down to make way for the current homes that now sit on her old site. This is a really good use of her land.

Now let’s fast forward to 2013. We now have a “new” Old Leidy School whose useful life as a public school appears to be over. So what happens to her now? Will she become another old derelict building in West Philadelphia? What is to become of her and her legacy in this neighborhood? On a more positive note for the community, Discovery Charter School has moved to its new location at 4700 Parkside Avenue. Discovery has been in Parkside for some years now, but the move puts them in a larger, more state of the art building that can accommodate more students. Ironically, Discovery’s new location is down the street from the now closed Leidy School.

School of the Future Hallway (Photo credit: JohnJobby)

It remains to be determined how many Leidy Students will be attending Discovery Charter. The impact of the school closings on our neighborhood go beyond just Leidy School. University City High School is also closing and some of the students from University City may end up attending the School of the Future at 42nd and Parkside Avenue.

While I am sure nearby schools can absorb the increased numbers of students resulting from the school closings, no community benefits from having a large vacant building in its midst. According to some online sources, Leidy School has a market value of more than 3 million dollars.

Selling Leidy and the other closed schools is a very good idea. It removes these vacant buildings from our community and gives them new life.

What do YOU think would be a good use for the now vacant Leidy School building?
Do you think it will make a good home for another charter school? How about a community or recreation center? There certainly is enough space. Maybe it could be turned into a new apartment building with some new park space added in. The list could be endless

Feel free to email your ideas to the Journal here. I’ll mention community ideas in a future issue of The Parkside Journal.