Paul Robeson High School for Human Services is a small school in West Philadelphia that, like many others in cities across the country, is housed in a building with inadequate air conditioning that makes it almost impossible to teach and learn because of excess heat in the warmer months. By next school year, however, Robeson will see a number of infrastructure improvements, including adequate air conditioning throughout the school. In this post, teacher leader Dr. Elana M. Evans and student Morgan Eason talk about how a major effort by teachers, parents, and students—including the school’s National Honor Society (NHS) chapter—convinced the school district’s central office to act.
Elana: This effort started last year when we got together as a staff and talked about what we could do to improve conditions in our school. We were in a building with bad ventilation and no good way of regulating the temperature or the air quality. Especially with everyone wearing masks all day long, that was a real concern. We put together a petition that all our staff members signed that outlined what we wanted to see changed. I’m also the NHS adviser so I asked Morgan, the NHS president, her thoughts on getting the students to participate in this effort. She took on the initiative and rallied the student body hard. She passed everything by me, but the efforts of the NHS officers were student led. They took time to talk to staff, parents, and students, and collect names on their own petition of support.
Morgan: I was really excited to get involved with this because, with the pandemic, everybody kind of got lazy and stopped really pushing to make things better in our school. I wanted the other students to understand that this was really important. I’m graduating but they are going to be in the building, and they’ll have to deal with all the heat issues. Having to be in the building is hard because of that sometimes. The students in Robeson are excellent, and I feel like we deserve all of the things that other schools are getting. The best thing for me was getting people to understand what it was about and then getting people excited and wanting to participate: students and their peers and their parents and their friends.
Elana: Things started to move because we all came together collectively. It wasn’t just staff saying something and complaining. It was staff, students, and parents working together to advocate for Paul Robeson. And that was a big voice. We let them know that we’re over here, and we need this, and this is why. We hear all the time that we’re supposed to be teaching our kids 21st century skills. Well, we can’t do that if we don’t have the resources, especially building resources.
Morgan: The pep rally we had in May, which students helped organize to advocate for building upgrades, was one of my favorite things that happened all school year. It was great seeing everybody pumped up and activated over something that can make a difference. It got me excited because the pandemic was so much down time and overthinking and getting overwhelmed with schoolwork and not being with your friends. This was everybody together in one room making noise for a good cause. Now that they’ve seen the difference it makes to make that noise, I hope they push for more improvements. I’m definitely going to come back and visit.
Elana: What we have been teaching our students here is how to advocate and how to use their voice because it’s very important to use it, whether by writing or by speaking or in other ways, but it’s important to let people hear your voice. And they truly did.
Join Elana, Morgan, and NASSP in advocating for additional support to improve school facilities by sending a message to your members of Congress asking them to pass H.R. 602, the Rebuild America’s Schools Act!