Mighty Writers: a haven amidst rising violence in Philadelphia's schools

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Philadelphia Inquirer is calling the series "Assault on Learning."  It is painful, beyond painful, to read the stories through.  There is, for example, the story of a young woman at work on an algebra test when a band of marauding students bursts through the classroom door and attacks—as the other students and teacher watch, helpless.  Her crime? Witnessing a fight that had broken out the week before.  Her warning?  The Vaseline these attackers had smeared on their face and the scarves they had tied to their heads.  "The ritual — well-known in Philadelphia schools — is intended to keep skin from scarring and hair from getting ripped out," reporters John Sullivan, Susan Snyder, Kristen A Graham, and Dylan Purcell tell us.

The reporters also provide these staggering numbers, which I quote from the story which can be found here

The Jan. 22, 2010, assault on Teshada, which left her bleeding and dazed, was the 2,095th violent incident the School District recorded in the 2009-10 year.

Within a few minutes, a video at the three-story school recorded violent incident No. 2,096, another attack in a hallway in a largely unused part of the building that teachers had complained about for months. Students rushed past a security guard as the fight erupted. Then, he waded into the fray, reaching down to help a girl who had been knocked to the ground and kicked and punched by her assailants.
By June, the district's total of violent incidents had grown to 4,541. That means on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.

That doesn't even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year.
This is terrible news and essential reporting.  This is one more evidence of devastation in a broken world.  What do we do about it?  How can we help?  We can start by knowing, which is what the Inquirer is enabling us to do. We can also give to Mighty Writers, a wonderful after-school, urban Philadelphia program run by Tim Whitaker.  This from a letter Mr. Whitaker sent today:
We don't think about violence much at Mighty Writers. Two years into the program, it isn't an issue, and we plan to keep it that way.

That's not to say there aren't days when kids come through our doors edgy from the school day, or that there isn't the occasional verbal dust up. We see hundreds of kids in a week; kids being kids, you'd be smart to expect disagreeable moments.

But those moments are few, and they pass quickly, and there are reasons for that. Kids at Mighty Writers come voluntarily--which means they've made a decision to find a way to get ahead, or somebody at home has made that decision for them. Either way, every kid's ongoing participation speaks volumes.

Plus, we pay close attention.

Learning to write clearly and meaningfully builds kids' confidence, self-esteem and self-respect. That's our particular truth. We see the proof. If you've been with us for any length of time, you know our mission is to turn city kids onto writing through innovative projects in safe and optimistic neighborhood centers. We want to make a difference in the lives of as many kids as possible.
Think about it.  Think about havens.  Think about words.  Think about kids who want to get ahead and how stories and language can help them.  I am about to head off to the post office myself.


Unknown said...

It's devastating to think that kind of violence goes on in schools elsewhere (ie, not in NYC). It's fantastic, though, what Philadelphia is doing about it..once you know and read about it, it's hard not to do anything so I hope this helps.

Mighty Writers sounds like a great organization. I'm going to spend some time reading about them.
Thank you for this post.

Lilian Nattel said...

That is an appalling statistic. I don't understand how that cannot be the first priority of every American politician and every citizen.

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