Student-run advocacy nonprofit UrbEd is 'reclaiming our school system' - Generocity Philly

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Jan. 22, 2018 11:25 am

Student-run advocacy nonprofit UrbEd is ‘reclaiming our school system’

Here's how the group's teen leaders, many of whom attend Science Leadership Academy, want to revolutionize education in Philly.

UrbEd speaking out against the School Reform Commission.

(Image via twitter.com/urbedadvocates)

Youth-run education advocacy nonprofit UrbEd has tasked itself with ensuring that every student in the Philadelphia school system receives “quality and efficient urban education by 2026.”

It’s a tall and ambitious order, completely fitting of the new organization’s determined cofounder and executive director, Tamir Harper.

According to the 17-year old senior at Center City’s Science Leadership Academy (SLA), what qualifies as “quality and efficient” is addressed by UrbEd’s four main project focal points: local control, school-to-prison pipeline, building conditions and teacher diversity.

“Right now, about 4.5 percent of the School District of Philadelphia’s teachers are Black male educators,” Harper said. “How many Black male educators are in your school compared to how many Black students or Hispanic students or Asian students?”

UrbEd was founded in 2016 when Harper joined forces with former SLA student and now-UrbEd’s deputy executive director and program director, Luke Risher, to envision an organization devoted to the improvement of urban education. The pair began reaching out to other organizations for funding and support, and in June of 2017, was given a $6,000 grant by Bread & Roses Community Fund.

Bread & Roses’ Future Fund, designed to assist agencies “working on emerging issues or developing new approaches to social justice activism,” provided UrbEd the boost it needed to focus on branding and development.

“They took a chance,” Harper recalled.

Soon, UrbEd’s nine-member team — composed predominantly students of color who also attend SLA — was assembled and ready to get to work. SLA student and Finance and Operations Director M. Samuel Dennis joined UrbEd after an internship with Technically Media got him thinking more about diversity in the tech field.

The 17-year-old’s ensuing advocacy for increasing the amount of people of color in tech aligned with UrbEd’s mission — after all, proper education paves the way for such professional opportunities.

“Being a part of the team really takes me to a level of, ‘Hey, I’m not just about computing and coding and anything within tech or even the Philadelphia tech scene,'” Dennis said. “I’m also expanding those horizons through education.”

UrbEd’s specific action areas include influencing the community through public policy engagement, leadership opportunities, advocacy trainings, direct school donations and civic engagement competitions. The organization released its State of Education Report at its official launch event this past Friday, and currently has an application on its site where students can sign up to become education advocates in their own schools.

The organization is also offering small grants to local schools as it comes into funding. At Friday’s event, for instance, it gifted $300 each to Blankenburg Elementary School and Tilden Middle School.

“Whatever UrbEd does, ultimately, will just be openly giving back to the community that we’re a part of,” Dennis said.

The fledgling org already has reason to celebrate. In November of 2017, the School Reform Commission voted to disband itself. After over a decade of criticism from activists and educational professionals, the state-appointed ruling agency decided to return control to local officials.

Without a doubt, UrbEd feels this is a step in the right direction.

“Reclaiming our time, we are reclaiming our school system,” Harper said, paying homage to Congresswoman Maxine Waters. “We claim one victory at a time, but we also will never stop fighting for what we believe the student voice looks like, and also what an urban education should look like.”

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