As champions for education, it’s no surprise that Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (or NICE), a South Philadelphia-based organization, abides by the ABCs.
Specifically, the group, which has been fostering the welfare of Point Breeze public school G.W. Childs Elementary School since 2012, uses the first three letters of the alphabet to outline its objectives: Advocate for neighborhood schools, Build Partnerships and Community to School.
About seven years ago, as Childs transitioned from its prior home at 17th and Tasker streets to its current location in the former Jeremiah Nichols School and Norris S. Barratt Junior High School, at 1599 Wharton St., a new local resident and former public school teacher wanted to lend a helping hand.
Having visited various elementary schools in South Philadelphia through her work, Megan Rosenbach found it necessary to showcase all of the benefits such local schools had to offer.
“Why is the narrative just all negative? she said. “Not to say there isn’t problems…but I was kind of astounded by the fact that none of the positivity was rising to the surface, and so I got really interested in neighborhood schools in general.”
Her coalition gradually came to life as she gathered a group of local volunteers who worked to address the school’s needs, including raising funds for art supplies and revitalizing an entire library in the new building.
Since its inception, NICE has raised more than $125,000 from grants, foundations and city funding to support capital projects and after-school programming, according to its website. The organization has raised more than $12,000 through events and donors that support teacher projects, library improvements and student activities, according to its website.
One of the first individuals on board was Point Breeze resident, a Childs parent and Childs alumni Kim Smith, who Rosenbach says had been promoting the South Philadelphia school well before the establishment of NICE, as Smith’s children first attended the school nearly two decades ago.
“She oozes a sense of welcome…you can just really have an honest conversation with Kim,” Rosenbach said. “And, I feel like we kind of cut through all of the intensity of the things going on in the neighborhood really quickly – she and I – and, we’re just kind of like, ‘We all care about this school, great, let’s work together to do this.’”
From assisting with standardized testing to organizing African-American history programs, Smith was recently honored with the organization’s inaugural NICE Neighbor award, a new yearly recognition that will be given during an annual fundraiser at Circle of Hope, 2212 S. Broad St., every spring.
“We were looking for somebody who had shown a long-term dedication to helping to make G.W. Childs a thriving neighborhood school,” said NICE board member and president Diana Liefer. “It was kind of a no-brainer for Kim to be the first person to receive the award.”
During this year’s event, which raised more than $11,000 for Childs in April, Smith gave a speech accepting the award, as she was highlighted for her scope of work, including helping with NICE’s major library project in the summer of 2012.
For months, Smith handled hundreds of books, including organizing them into the Dewey Decimal System.
Smith and her team vigorously worked to restore, clean and update the new space for current and future students of Childs, which includes kindergarteners to eighth-graders.
“I dreamt about books,” Smith said. “It’s important for children to know how to read, and we didn’t have a library at first, and then, we got one in. We were fighting really hard to get a library in…That’s a safe space for children to go and be creative and learn new things.”
She says, after the implementation of the library, the school even adopted a library class into its curriculum.
Smith also notes one of NICE’s largest accomplishments, as in 2016, the organization raised more than $17,000 to help restore Childs’ historic auditorium, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech when the school was still Barratt in 1967.
Rosenbach and Liefer say the new award aligns with the “ABCs” of NICE.
The organization is currently advocating and fundraising for a new playground on the school’s gated roof. The project, which the NICE team says has gained backing from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and state Rep. Jordan Harris, is currently undergoing a design process as it seeks logistic approvals.
Since the building used to house only junior high school students, a playground has been requested by the school community since the space is now home to elementary-aged children.
“We’ve always been a response team to the school,” Liefer said.
Also, looking ahead, the organization strives to be more inclusive of all community members, hoping to gain a more diverse board comprised of individuals from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Rosenbach and Liefer stress that there is always more trust to be built and more partnerships to be made, especially in a neighborhood facing escalating gentrification.
For Smith, who has been a resident of Point Breeze her whole life, NICE is exactly what the Childs community needed and continues to need.
“When (NICE) came, they had not one child in that school,” Smith said. “They just came and went full throttle and made sure that everybody had what they needed. They made sure we got the right resources or pointed us in the right direction. and we got it. They helped boost the morale of the staff and students. That was really important to the safety of children…All of that was really important.”
To learn more about NICE, visit http://www.nicephilly.org/.