The public education system in Philadelphia is in crisis.
As much as the city would like an all-encompassing answer, there isn't one. Even if there were many, which one would be right?
Beyond a thorough analysis of the numbers, underneath the daunting statistics, there is a voice that seems too often overlooked:
That of the kids.
Now, if I were asked to prove that kids could pinpoint what they want and need from a school environment, I would probably fail.
Fail -- not because they don't have an answer, but because, frankly, it's usually wrong. Longer recess! More basketball throughout the day!
But there is something to those answers, and that thing is pure honesty.
I'd like to think that if given more time (and unyielding patience) their answers would reveal kernels of actionable truth.
Given the proper dedication and voice, a child's imagination is full of hope, spirit and authenticity. Why wouldn't that deliver better education outcomes?
So, play along with me here, the real question is this: What do children need in order to grasp their future?
At VARE Recreation Center, located at 2600 Morris St. in South Philadelphia, students by the dozen, of all ages, spend their summer days at camp. Tyrique Glasgow, who we've met before, is VARE's program director.
Glasgow's mission is simple, but his everyday tasks are anything but. He believes in providing these kids with not only an education, but a future. In the beginning of the summer, Glasgow asked each child to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. He made it his mission to make what was written on paper come to life, to inch young children toward that path.
"Never underestimate the power of our youth voices, because when they speak, we should listen," Glasgow said.
By listening to the kids he cares so deeply about, Glasgow was able to tap something they never knew existed: power from within.
From a SEPTA bus driver to a professional basketball player, not one vision was shot down. On Aug. 2, 2013, Glasgow was able to get the Summer Hoops Tour to visit VARE.
World B. Free led the tour. He's a Sixers "Ambassador of Basketball" who teaches the fundamentals of the game along with a heavy dose of the importance on education.
On this Friday afternoon, ballers or not, the kids at VARE laughed and smiled until the last basketball was bounced. Glasgow's sole mission was to "do it for the kids." And that he did.
This may not be our solitary answer, but it can make a difference. By providing kids with foundation we -- educators, neighbors, mentors -- can get them to speak up, and speak out. They are the ones that go to school and walk the halls. They are the ones that are on that level. Without that vantage point there is no way, as a city, that we are actually seeing the problem.
Education should not be seen as a chart of bell-curved statistics, but as a tangible dream -- unedited and inspired by youth.