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In Philly schools, can sports and arts be saved as an afterschool refuge?

By the Notebook on Aug 28, 2013 08:59 PM
Photo: Emma Lee/NewsWorks

Mustangs coach John Sullivan runs a summer practice at Dobbins-Randolph Vo-Tech High School.

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

Under a bright-blue North Philadelphia sky, Coach John Sullivan runs around a grassy field in gym shorts and a T-shirt, teaching the Dobbins High School football team lessons in follow-through.

Two players shuffle side-to-side separated by a line of small orange cones. Dobbins' imposing facade towers high above them. In the far distance, beyond a maze of train tracks and power lines, the city's skyline glistens.

Sullivan blows his whistle. The players collide in the tackling drill, their pads crunching. "Keep moving the feet," Sullivan yells. "Wrap 'em up!"

The players stalemate, pushing each other sideways until they fall. The screech of Sullivan's whistle again fills the air. He calls for the players to get back up and do it again.

Repetition. Discipline. Teamwork. Follow-through. It's the creed of high school football.  And it's why some educators, like Sullivan, argue that team sports should join art, music and theater as extracurricular activities to be preserved even amid the Philadelphia School District's fiscal crisis.

For now, fall football has survived the ax, but many other extracurricular activities face uncertain fates, thanks to the budget shortfall.

Surrogate familes

Sullivan, a native of Northeast Philadelphia and graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School, used to work in the business world. When the company he worked for was bought out, he accepted a severance package and then pursued his dream of teaching, despite the lower pay.

"I was here for a week when I realized I made the right decision. I had more satisfaction in a week of doing this, than in 12 years of the other thing," said Sullivan, now a 14-year veteran of teaching history and coaching Dobbins Mustangs football.

Sullivan has come to see just what follow-through -- specifically in the structure of extracurricular activities -- can do for students who can otherwise tend to fall through the cracks.

"I've seen them grow," he said. "I've seen so many kids that they've given up on, that school will tell me: 'This kid probably shouldn't play,' and I'm telling you, if you saw him by his senior year, he's one of the more upstanding kids in the school."

Linebacker John Young has seen the change in his own life. Now going into his senior year, Young says he didn't start taking schoolwork seriously until football taught him the payoff for dedication.

"It helps you learn responsibilities and discipline so you can be better at school and get better grades, and hopefully be better in life," he said.

Each year's team becomes like a surrogate family, Sullivan says, for kids who often face daunting struggles in their personal lives.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Comments (13)

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 29, 2013 7:04 am
If Corbett tapped his corporate buddies for some of the 3.2 billion in tax breaks he gave to them last year, we might be able to support the extracurricular activities that have been a part of public education in Philadelphia even during the Great Depression. What is with the PFT membership? Why the 10% turnout for the march last week? Rain cannot account for it, and would be one horrible excuse anyway, and kids were welcome. If only 10% of our parents showed up for a report card conference, we'd think there was a problem in the "culture." What about us? This is getting personal for me, and that worries me because I care about my work environment and have always gotten along well with my colleagues. I know I will resent working for lower pay and benefits partly because the other members of my collective bargaining unit were too lazy, indifferent, or defeatist to show up to protect my rights as well as their own. Union dues are not the only responsibility of the PFT membership. Showing up, even when it's inconvenient, counts too, both at PFT rallies and at the polls.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 29, 2013 10:24 pm
Well said!
Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on August 29, 2013 7:06 am
Extra curricular activities and sports are necessities in developing well rounded students. What about middle school sports? They kept football and a few others, but they cut a well organized middle school sports system that feeds the high schools. There has hardly been a mention of this in the news. Even though it was a few years ago that middle school sports were chopped, our K-8 school is still feeling the effect today. This is just another example of how the SDP fails to measure up to its suburban counterparts. I played three sports at my suburban middle school. It allowed me to develop a strong work ethic, a dedication to teamwork and helped me build long lasting friendships that I still hold onto today. I feel for our students.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 29, 2013 10:15 am
It's not that they "fail to measure up" to suburban schools, it's not happening in suburban schools because this is* targeted *toward inner city schools. They'll fund xtra curriculars IF there are union concessions? I for one don't take well to blackmail, and neither should anyone else. I don't think Hite is a good person to be deciding where money goes, he's showing his irresponsibility. In the long run teachers should be thinking- I am paying more for my healthcare even though costs under the ACA haven come down, BUT I"ve funded some after school programs? Total total scam!
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Submitted by chelsea morris (not verified) on July 28, 2014 2:27 am

Thanks for this interesting post. Self-discipline plays a vital role in staying fit and healthy. People go to fitness centers to get healthy, but too often they may also be getting swindled. According to the Better Business Bureau, around 9,400 complaints were filed last year against fitness experts, fitness centers and health clubs. That is 15 percent higher than in the previous year. Let us all take our part in promoting wellness to each and everyone.

Submitted by rdokoye (not verified) on September 8, 2014 9:57 am

I always hear of these arts and sports programs as being goto initiatives, but I think business classes and after school computer clubs, are things that should be encouraged, because these are skills that could better serve the individuals.

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