In case you haven’t heard 30 Asian American students were beaten in and out of a Philadelphia High School back in December. This story is still making news. As in any tragedy their acts of courage and cowardice.
Below is testimony I offered at a recent Human Relations Commission. After I was done, the school district took over the hearing having principals of functioning schools speak. Guess what; the functioning schools all have what I called for: character education and a willingness to met parents and work with students.
My name is Keith Newman. I am teacher in the district and a candidate for State Representative. My chief reason for seeking political office is that politicians have been unable fix schools. There are three groups who can fix schools: teachers, parents, and students. To be successful each group needs a school administrator who respects them and unites them, rather than driving wedge between them.
I expect you’ve heard many times, kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. It’s not just physical abuse kids fear, but emotional abuse, bullying, and its rampant in Philadelphia Schools. It often leads to violence. This school district has sought to downplay violence for years, as evidenced by Paul Vallas trying or prevent the report on school discipline compiled by Judge Green from being made public. Fast forward to the present, and we have seen the slow response by our current superintendent to the situation at South Philly High. This school district for years has tried to under report violence and punish the ones who report it, rather than the ones who commit it. Earlier this year at Roxborough High, a young man was beaten three times, once requiring hospitalization. For his safety he was transferred to Germantown High. At South Philly High, the school district tried to blame the violence on Asian student saying he was a gang member. The School District has been forced to recant that story. The principal at South Philly High was loathe to call for police support and the nurse despite seeing multiple victims could not call 911, why? Serious incidences don’t look good on a principal’s evaluation.
The School district must recognize reality and bring in programs that work in changing that reality to one that is desired. My purpose in being here today is inform the Human Relation Commission of policies that will work in reducing violence in our schools and at the same time improve our test scores.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has issued reports saying many children in Philadelphia suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This is the reality our schools are populated with. These children are easily identifiable. The question is why aren’t we reaching out to them, treating them and their families, and enabling them to move on with their lives in a positive direction. Why aren’t we incorporating programs into our curriculum that change reality? Joseph Marshall, the author of “Street Soldiers” who has received national acclaim for his work with gang youth, believes the academics can’t get in until the emotions get out. To reduce violence we must identify and heal these children.
Character Education curricula are proven to improve school climate, raise test scores, and are associated with a drop in crime in the neighborhood surrounding schools which install such a curriculum. The new No Child Left Behind Act as proposed by the Obama Administration will look for these type of improvements. But we don’t have to wait, we can do them now.
I have proposed quick, effective, inexpensive solutions to our nightmare in Philadelphia. Before this can happen we must recognize there is a problem. I asked earlier why the nurse at South Philly High when treating multiple victims, was afraid to call 911. Because in the current atmosphere of disrespecting teachers, educators fear disciplinary action will be taken against them for acting responsibly. Education begins with respecting teachers, and until administration does it, don’t expect kids or parents to do it. Our students and parents are intelligent, and they know who the scapegoats are.
The time to end violence was yesterday. Hopefully we can start today, and we do that with proven programs: treat post traumatic stress syndrome, introduce character education curricula, and work with parents at the local level.