Jai Abbott, 8, poses with her artwork, a terracotta warrior made at school as a result of a school partnership Spiral Q. She is among a group of Powel students who came to City Hall to raise awareness for the education budget crisis.
About a dozen students from Samuel Powel Elementary in West Philadelphia descended on City Hall today armed with 4-foot terracotta warrior puppets and a large dose of hope in their hearts.
Hope that the Philadelphia School District's budget crisis will soon be resolved.
"I am a little scared," said third grader Seva Staack, 9. "I feel like they are going to save my school."
Understanding what exactly they were protesting for wasn't easy for the children. Staack's school is not on the list of 24 set to close at the end of this year, but if the budget cuts go through it could very well mean no more art classes at Powel.
Parents who signed their children out of school for the protest were also there to help get the message across to city leaders. The students performed a choreographed routine for Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell outside her fourth floor office.
"We don't know what will happen but every council person cares about what happens to our schools," Blackwell said to the students as their parents took photos and videos of the creative protest.
The Philadelphia School District is asking the city to come up with an additional $60 million to help close a $304 million budget hole.
"I wish I could tell these children affirmatively, but we don't know how we will come up with $60 million," Blackwell went on to say. "I always find it sad when kids are involved with fighting. It's an adult problem."
Powel parent Anne Pomerantz said the process is "frustrating and exhausting." Her son Leo Cohen, 9, is a third grader at Powel.
"Every spring we are fighting the same battle," said Pomerantz. "We are constantly fighting having our school defunded or closed. Things are not getting any better." Still, she is hopeful that the arts and other programs will be spared. Pomerantz says the state should come up with a public education funding model that is fair to all districts.
This afternoon, City Council considered about a dozen bills that have an impact on city revenue. Blackwell stated she was for a tobacco tax and taxing casinos as opposed to neighborhood businesses.
The School District of Philadelphia FY 2014 proposed operating budget recommends extensive cuts to accommodate the $304 million revenue shortfall. Arts education, sports, guidance counselors and librarians are all on the chopping block.
"Since Jannie Blackwell has a Masters in Arts Education, we think she should be as concerned about this as anybody," said Karim Olaechea of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
"Obviously she knows the value of arts education. Maintaining that quality of education should be a priority for all in City Council."
After talking with Blackwell, the students and their parents went knocking on the doors of other council members to amplify their concerns.
"We urge you to get creative," one parent said to Councilman Bill Green as the students huddled near his desk.
Mayor Wilson Goode was meeting with his son Councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. when the students came knocking on the councilman's door.
"We have a lot of work to do, but I'm on your side," Councilman Goode told the children.
"We were wondering if you could give us a bit more money for our school," said kindergartner Anya Agha, 6, to Councilman James Kenney.
"We need to do something," Pomerantz said to Kenney. "Because we all have to go back to school in September."
"I promise we'll do on our end, but now it's time for the state to step up." said Kenney. "We could collect our taxes better."
The students presented each council member with a paintbrush as a small gesture and a reminder.
The terracotta puppets they brought along to City Hall were created in partnership with the Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) and Spiral Q, a puppet theater company in the school's neighborhood.
PCCY funded the project under its Picasso Project. Teaching artists from Spiral Q showed the students how to create the terracotta warriors and taught the history behind them.
After the students finished making their rounds at City Hall, their parents took them back to school by car and taxi.