They are everywhere.
Tucked into residential windows. In a hallway at the Christian Street YMCA. In barbershop windows, and even on the pages of Facebook.
Pink, white, yellow and other colors of the rainbow, the signs that announce the existence of the group SOS (Supporters of Stanton School) are popping up in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of E.M. Stanton School, signifying a grassroots movement that seeks to head off the potential closing of the school.
When it was officially announced last week that Stanton, at 1700 Christian St., was on the list of nine schools recommended for shuttering by the Philadelphia School District as part of an effort to save money and reduce the number of under-utilized and underperforming buildings, SOS, an eclectic mix of people from all different backgrounds and races, knew as far back as June that the school might be on the list.
Now that it was made official last Wednesday, they are not standing still. They plan to do everything in their power to prevent the school, which has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) eight years running, from closing.
They have begun to circulate petitions in support of the school. A letter-writing campaign is scheduled for this Saturday at the Marian Anderson Recreatiol Center, 744 S. 17th St., between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“We got wind [that the school might be on the closing list] of it way back in June,” said Stanton parent and SOS member James Wright. “You should not be closing a high-performing neighborhood school. This is what parents want in a high-performing school; and this is what the district is trying to create, a place where there are neighborhood partnerships and where the effort is being made to close the education gap. Stanton is doing exactly what they say they want schools to do in No Child Left Behind.”
Wright is so thoroughly sold on the school that he and his wife opted to keep their sixth-grade daughter there rather than transfer her to a nearby school with a “better reputation.” He hopes that his son, just four, will be a Stanton student in the future.
Stanton is an all-Black school. However, its supporters are anything but.
Retired teacher Susan Kettell, who is white, speaks about the children at Stanton as if they were her own. Kettell was an arts facilitator at Stanton for 10 years before she retired three years ago. These days, Kettel can’t stay away, and is in the aged building almost every day, lending a hand and helping to maintain the school’s exceptional ties to the arts community.
“I never thought any differently,” she said, when asked how she has developed such an affinity for a school of Black children. “There is no other way to be. It’s all about respecting all of humanity — that’s how I grew up; that’s how I was taught. I have a commitment to all children and color is the last thing that I see.”
Kettell has been with the faith-based neighborhood organization Bainbridge House for years. She has helped facilitate an 18-year mentoring program with the school. Bainbridge annually gives thousands of dollars to the school in the form of donations to the arts, whether it be costumes, art supplies, instruments or any other art-related gift.
But now the clock is ticking, again, on Stanton, which avoided closure eight years ago, due to a combination of low enrollment, low test scores and old facilities. While the school has just been recommended for closure again, those who support it, such as Wright and Kettell, know that they must be proactive.
Meetings have been planned by the SOS for once a week. While the core group is made up mostly of seven or eight members who represent many others, when they gathered in October as the recommendations were about to come down, more than 80 people showed up at First African Baptist Church at 16th and Christian streets.
“We are serious,” Wright said. “We will fight for our school.”