Philly Student Union Members Motivate Fellow Students to Stand Up

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Sarah Glover
    Sharron Snyder (right) and Deion Ferguson talk with student Ja'von Armstrong (seated) about the efforts of the Philadelphia Student Union.

    Public education in Philadelphia faces numerous uncertainties. The latest big question is whether school will even start on time. It all comes down to funding. 

    Superintendent Dr. William Hite set a deadline for this Friday for the state and city to come up with $50 million, or Hite says schools may not open on Sept. 9. 

    Today, Mayor Michael Nutter gave the city permission to borrow $50 million so that schools may open on time. 

    With all the uncertainty hovering of what the school year will be like, some students are spending the last days of summer trying to make sure fellow students understand just how desperate their plight is at this point.

    "I'm just doing it for my school because it's the right thing to do," said Sharron Snyder, an incoming senior at Ben Franklin High School. "We are going to need counselors. Without counselors, it's going to be hard to get into college."

    With clipboards in hand and matching t-shirts, Snyder and other members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) have been canvassing the city streets and going door-to-door to explain to other students what's happening with the budget cuts.

    Snyder, 18, said she would like to tell Governor Tom Corbett-- "We need the money because we know you have it and you're giving it to things like prisons. We know you have it. Stop lying."

    In May, PSU members worked with other groups to organize a school walkout, rallying thousands of students. Today, their effort, by the numbers, is much smaller. Three students and three staff members left the PSU office in the 4200 block of Chestnut Street to canvass on South Street and near the Gallery Mall. 

    After taking SEPTA to the Gallery Mall, Snyder and Deion Ferguson, 16, an incoming junior at Sayer High School, stopped Ja'von Armstrong, 18, a senior at Simon Gratz Mastery Charter. They invited him to a PSU meeting this Saturday, offering pizza and SEPTA tokens to get home. 

    Armstrong said, "I know a lot of students who aren't coming to school because of the cuts. Why are they taking all this away?"

    A group of three friends from Palumbo High School frowned upon the impact of the budget crisis after being approached by Snyder in the Gallery Food Court. They play volleyball and are entering their sophomore year of high school. Sports are on the chopping block and the girls are not happy.

    "I want to start on time, not late," said Laquana Speaks, 14. "Most kids get into sports and get good grades."

    Her friend Shirmina Smith, 15, agreed and said it seems like there is nothing to strive for. 

    Next week, Philadelphia Student Union members will make a decision -- and make it public -- on whether they will boycott school. They have meetings planned for this weekend and next week to discuss what course of action they will choose. 

    The Philadelphia Student Union began in 1995 when a group of Philly students felt they had no voice. Today, about 200 students are members and about 1,000 students affiliate with their program over the course of the school year. The organization has a small staff and is funded by private donations and grants.

    The fuss is over a $300-plus million shortfall the School District of Philadelphia faces for its next fiscal budget year. Local groups, such as Parents United PA, say that what is really needed is $180 million. Area pastors called for a boycott this week until the funding is in place and schools can open with adequate staff and safety measures. 

    "No one wants to go to school now," said Deion Ferguson, 16.  "Taking opportunities from students will lead to dropouts. This makes me feel like crap."

    The PSU is student-led and run, and organizers believe all of the needed money will come. 

    "We know for sure we can win. That change is possible," said PSU staffer Christi Clark. "There is also very little choice. Either you accept what the district decides or take action."