The COVID pandemic and the social justice movement, two major disruptors of 2020, were intertwined. The inequities that existed before 2020 were lifted to the forefront as health disparities and the impact of sub-standard support in schools with the greatest need were underscored.
If we are to competitively emerge in the dynamic global economy, education has to be the focus of a city-wide effort. This is not news. It is an ongoing fact. The digital divide is alive and thriving. Students in K-12 through college had a difficult time keeping up due to their lack of access to the internet support and the in-person touch points with educators. Even after quarantine, families in Philadelphia’s economically challenged neighborhoods went to libraries for support, many of which had non-functioning computers, outdated software, and old books. This unacceptable situation was already in place before the disruptions of 2020.
While many of us can work from the comfort of our homes, that is not the case for those with little living space, too many people under one roof to concentrate, and less access to healthcare and nutritional food. We have a lot of talented young people who deserve the support of the entire Philadelphia community which includes City government, social organizations, educational organizations and local corporations. Education must be equitable for all of our young people, and access to human basics and concentrated support from educators are critical components in that equation.
In 2021, the Urban Affairs Coalition in partnership with Independence Blue Cross conducted a city-wide study, the Ending Racism Partnership. The outcome from residents and business leaders around the City was heartfelt and painfully revealing. Yet there were no great surprises. There have been numerous studies, most of which are pointing to the same problems. People are tired of giving input. They want their lives to change. We are recycling responses and not giving back to participants with action.
Now is the time to immediately develop a strategic plan that can be implemented by January 2023. People want to see results and the action plan will serve to connect the varied stakeholders and residents in a way that progress can be measured. Let’s organize in one place at one appointed block of time. Bring all of the educational organizations, economic organizations, student-focused non-profits, universities, K-16 administrators and educators, and K-16 students to one place to develop the master plan complete with timelines, milestones, and benchmarks for moving this city forward.
First, analyze and compare the results of so many of the studies that have already been conducted into one document. Provide those results to the entire city and surrounding region for review. Gather a consortium of diverse conveners from groups like, but not limited to, Econsult Solutions, the Economy League, the African American Chamber, the Hispanic Chamber, Community College, Esperanza, and the Welcoming Center. Form a collaborative partnership between the many competing non-profits who have the same mission in mind – to support student growth and development. Develop an advisory board of education focused leaders from schools, museums, and corporations, in particular those who are part of the next generation of leadership.
Our city has globally competitive talent. Let’s add to that talent pool with students who have not had the same opportunities to thrive, and as such bring their unique perspectives to the convening. Let’s ensure that we provide our young people with opportunities to participate in consortiums around the world so that there is a deeper understanding of what the global stage looks like and what it means to have exposure to many cultures. Educating our young people is the priority for Philadelphia to guarantee our place on the world stage. Let’s make it happen.
Rosalyn McPherson is a senior advisor to Econsult Solutions. She is a seasoned executive with more than thirty years of project management, product development, and marketing expertise in the corporate and non-profit sectors. She loves projects that allow her team to work with diverse communities, thus ensuring that everyone has a voice in the important issues that affect us as human beings. Educational and intercultural understanding are inextricably woven into the core of her approach.