Letter to the Editor

What about our schools?

I read with great interest the report by Mark Zimmaro on a special state funding program (“State funding for local projects,” March 23). The money comes from the Commonwealth Financial Authority’s Local Share Account Program, funded with gambling money from local casinos. We are talking about millions of dollars here. Who could ever imagine?

As I read the list of projects that will receive all this money, only one thought kept coming to my mind. What about our schools? Seriously, what other infrastructure or renovation project is so important that it takes attention and funding away from the too-often dangerous conditions in too many of our aging school buildings?

Anyone who has read any of my letters or opinion pieces knows that I have been a lifetime educator. I taught in three South Philly public schools. I also visited many other schools as a Temple adjunct supervising student teachers. The older the building the more dangers exist, especially asbestos and lead paint. I have written before about a teacher who worked in the same school where I taught and ended up with mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos.

Even as a young teacher, I was shocked to see the chipped and peeling paint on a wall of my school’s cafeteria. I was so concerned that I asked the principal for permission to scrape the old stuff off and paint a mural. It took many weeks, but the final result was a colorful painting of a rainforest. Of course I asked students to help research and paint some of the plants and animals into the forest – a good science and art lesson. The principal found the funding somewhere. The final result was a safe wall in a room where children ate lunch.

We all know that schools in Philadelphia are mostly very old. Many were built about a century ago to accommodate the children of immigrants like my grandparents who were lured here to work in factories or railroads thanks to the second industrial revolution. My own parents stayed in school only to learn the language and acquire factory skills. They both left as teenagers to go to work to support the family. It was common in those days before child labor laws.

So, while it is commendable to have funding for restoration of other community projects like museums and churches and airports, we must not delay the essential improvements to our schools, the daily environment of our precious children.

Gloria C. Endres