Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cuts claim a Northeast HS flagship program

UPDATED, 1 p.m.

Cuts claim a Northeast HS flagship program

In this file photo, Northeast students participate in a simulated space mission. (ERIC MENCHER/file)
In this file photo, Northeast students participate in a simulated space mission. (ERIC MENCHER/file)

UPDATED, 1 p.m.

I wrote in today's paper about the loss of the Space Research Center program, for 50 years a flagship program at Northeast High, the city's largest school.

It was one of those times when my own personal history intersected with my job. I'm a graduate of Northeast - Class 155 - and participated in SPARC, in the medical group. I knew as a high school freshman that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism, but SPARC interested me, too, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a member. My best friend was a SPARC astronaut our senior year. My sister was a SPARC member. I interviewed my high school physics teacher, Anthony Matarazzo (who I will never be able to call anything but "Mr. Mat") for my story, and we talked about how the program was a draw for kids from around the city.

The thing is - the loss of SPARC hurts. It was a unique program, one that sparked careers in engineering and science.

But lots of other clubs and activities were lost, too, and each one meant something to the kids who participated in them. (Sports remain, as they are funded not through individual school budgets but through a central allocation - a fact that frustrates Northeast's principal Linda Carroll and many others - not every student is an athlete, and what about outlets for them?)

And many city high schools cut clubs at the beginning of the year. For those of us who had the chance to expand our education through top-notch extracurriculars, can you imagine what high school would have been like without them? The Philadelphia School District continues to lose things that make school a place kids want to be.

Twenty years ago, Carroll said, the program's budget was $35,000. SPARC has expanded since then to include robotics, but the budget was chipped away in recent years. In the meantime, Carroll said, student participation expanded dramatically. About 120 kids were involved in SPARC until it was cut last week.

I've heard from several folks who want to either write checks to help keep SPARC alive, or help organize efforts to fundraise. The best way to do so is to contact Joan Scheidecker in the Northeast alumni office. Email, or call 215-728-5018, x1143.

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Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

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