For students at James Martin Middle School, it was hard enough coping with the loss of one of their own. What made it even more difficult however, was doing so without the help of a guidance counselor whom they knew and trusted due to the Philadelphia School District’s ongoing budget crisis.
Jordan Luciano, 13, who attended James Martin, and his father, 41-year-old Pete Luciano, drowned in the Wissahickon Creek Friday afternoon. For a short amount of time, Luciano's friends had to deal with the loss without any professional help. Budget cuts eliminated the guidance counselor position from James Martin as well as other schools with less than 600 students.
District officials eventually sent counselors to the school though some officials claimed it was harder for the students to open up to them since it was their first time meeting them. That’s why Dennis Dorfman, a former counselor who retired from the district before he was laid off last year, decided to take action. Dorfman volunteered to come in and counsel the students who were friends with Luciano.
“If I wasn’t there these kids wouldn’t have known a person to open up to,” Dorfman said. “Once we got them together, they laughed, they cried and they talked about how much they missed him.”
The lack of counselors was one of the many complaints from students and teachers, who took to Twitter to air their grievances using the hashtag #philly1stday.
“My 11-year-old reads three to five books a week,” tweeted Anne Pomerantz. “Number she’ll be checking out from school library this year? Zero. No librarian.”
“Straight A-student,” tweeted one student. “Can’t take the Honors classes I signed up for because there aren’t any teachers to teach them.”
School District officials say they’re monitoring Twitter but have found some of the complaints to be “unfounded.” The officials also insist some of the resources will be restored if teachers agree to $103 million worth of concessions in their contract negotiations.
Parents meanwhile, say they feel helpless.
“That’s the city for you,” Donna Smith said. “I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. They have no school buses this year.”
District officials have also received complaints of oversized classrooms. Contract rules state classes can’t have more than 33 students. Officials say they’re working to resolve the issue and will begin leveling all classes by the end of September.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is scheduled to make an announcement about the school budget crisis Wednesday morning.