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tutoring feature Rhoads School page 3 perspective

With an estimated 70,000 empty seats and $300 million in debt, the School District of Philadelphia voted in March to close 24 schools and lay off 3,700 employees, thereby significantly complicating the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project’s work with local schools.

WPTP is a Civic House-sponsored program that works with seven local schools to bring in Penn students as tutors. However, one of WPTP’s partner schools, Anna H. Shaw Middle School, was closed down this and three of WPTP’s partner school program coordinators were laid off.

According to Nicole Survis, WPTP’s Director of Education and a senior in the College, many of those who lost their jobs were support staff, after school activities coordinators, program coordinators, and newer teachers.

“It’s a tragedy that these kids are about to start school with no extracurricular activities and support staff,” Survis said.

Related: ICYMI: How the school system is falling apart

The closing of Shaw Middle School was also difficult for students who had tutored there.

“It was pretty sad to see it ending,” Lauren Rosenstock, a sophomore at Wharton and a WPTP board member on the outreach committee. “All the tutors knew it was the last time that they’d ever tutor there, and that they probably wouldn’t get to see these kids again.”

Similarly, College junior Shayan Cheraghlou, also a tutor for WPTP, said, “It’s really unfortunate for the tutors and the tutees because you build a strong relationship with the kids, and you want to continue helping them.”

Related: West Philadelphia public schools face additional budget cuts

Additionally, all six of WPTP’s program coordinators are new this year.

Despite the major changes to their program, there is no significant change to the number of tutoring positions available this year as compared to past years, mainly because of a lot of work and coordination by the WPTP and its program coordinators, according to Survis.

WPTP has 315 slotted tutors for the fall semester, only 90 of whom will be tutoring on campus. The organization also has approximately 100 students that are currently on its waitlist, a large increase from years past.

WPTP currently has just one van to transport Penn students to and from schools, and that is the primary factor that forces WPTP to limit the number of volunteers.

At one point earlier this year, some were afraid that schools would not even be open.

Related: Phila. School District to close 23 public schools

A vote to close the 24 Philadelphia schools came in the spring after the district elicited the help of Boston Consulting Group. The closures, lay offs, and even the creation of a skeleton budget still left the district with uncertainty as to whether it would open its schools on time in September, according to Survis.

Ultimately, on August 16, the city borrowed $50 million, and the schools opened on time.

Due to the closing of Shaw Middle School, however, WPTP is already in the process of creating a new partnership with a school in West Philadelphia, which they hope to finalize in time for the spring semester.

“It takes a lot of time to build a partnership,” Survis added.

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