PSEA, NEA leaders and Dr. Sanjay Gupta visit Reading for investigation into crumbling schools
November 29, 2011
Students in Chris Meyer’s 7th grade classroom refer to it as the “Day of the Waterfall.”
They were taking a test when the rain outside came pouring through a light fixture in the ceiling. The water hit the exposed wires and sparks flew as the students were sitting in collected puddles of water.
They laugh about it now, although it really isn’t funny.
Recently, Meyer and his students recounted the story to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, during a tour the network’s chief medical correspondent took of Southern Middle School in the Reading School District.
The tour was organized by Bryan Sanguinito, Reading Education Association president, and PSEA UniServ Ruthann Waldie, who believed the national media needed to know the conditions of the school, and, by extension, those in other impoverished communities across the country.
The U.S. Census recently designated Reading as the poorest city in the nation.
Southern Middle School, built in the 1920s, is crumbling. Rain comes in on students with every storm. Ceiling tiles fall on their heads. Mold is growing throughout the damp building and is distributed throughout classrooms via an ancient HVAC system. In the winter, students wear winter coats in the classroom. When it’s hot outside, the rooms become roasting. One time, a student fainted from the heat.
Sanguinito said needed repairs to the district’s schools would cost $750 million, far more than the district has in its coffers. The amount is nearly as much as Gov. Tom Corbett cut from state education funding this budget year.
Sanguinito hopes the CNN visit will shed light on funding inequities in our public school system that mean the most in need are the hardest hit in bad economic times. Reading lost more than $17.7 million in state funding for the 2011-12 school year as a result of Gov. Corbett's $860 million in cuts to public schools.
NEA Video: Indoor Air Quality: Our Students Deserve Better
Filmed in Reading, PA
PSEA Treasurer Dolores McCracken, National Education Association Vice President Lily Eskelsen, NEA Health Information Network Director Jerry Newberry also participated in the tour. The visit coincided with NEA’s national campaign to pass the Fix America’s Schools Today Act, which would provide $25 billion for modernizing and repairing public schools.
“The message these kids get when they look up and see their classroom ceiling leaking and falling in is, ‘I don’t matter,’” Eskelsen said during the tour. “How can we expect students to achieve in these conditions? This is a national crisis. We need to repair our public schools to keep our children healthy and allow them to learn.”
For many of the students, just making it to school is a hardship. “Just the other day, there was a dead body at one of the bus stops,” Sanguinito recalled. “The kids came to school and reported it. Let me say that again. They came to school and reported it! If that happened to me, I’d be a mess for weeks. But for them, that’s their life.”
Sanguinito worked directly with acting Superintendent J. Drue Miles to bring CNN to the school. Reading teachers and administrators believe that the funding inequities need to be seen.
McCracken was shocked at the conditions.
“I find it absolutely horrifying that we allow our students to come to school with ceilings falling on their heads, with water coming up from the floors, with mold hanging from the ceilings. We need as a community, in support of each other, to do something to take care of this.
“I’d like to send a message to Harrisburg, ‘Leave your office, leave the Capitol, and come out in the community and come see what such spending cuts to education, like Gov. Corbett’s slashing of $860 million from Pennsylvania schools, has done not only to students’ programs, but to the environment they are forced to learn in.”
The CNN segment is scheduled to air in January 2012.
Pictured: NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen speaks with Reading Education Association President Bryan Sanguinito. Photo source: NEAToday.org.