by Shelly Yanoff

At the end of August , the school was quiet, the office was receiving admission requests, the cheerleaders and sports-related folk were coming in after practice. They greeted this stranger heartily. Some members of the faculty were coming in to get ready for school.

The promise of a new year was palpable.

I was there as an interested observer and education advocate, wanting to better know and understand MLK in its latest iteration. It was, of course, the huge school that was built in the 1960s before “small” gained cachet. It was the school that had been the recipient of many theories of positive change; it is the school that sits in the city’s largely middle class northwest section but doesn’t receive many of its children.

It is of course the school that recently received Germantown High School students and many members of its football team. This school is now a Promise Academy, exploring many avenues to reach out to the community and hoping that it will indeed successfully educate those “who would be kings ”

Because of the school’s size and its architecture, King stands apart from the many communities whose children it serves. Thus, bringing the community into the school is even more challenging for this high school than many others. But there are ongoing efforts to bring the community in – to make the school more integrated into the fabric of its many communities.

One effort is announced on the marquee in front of the school: King invites you to have coffee with the principal on Wednesday mornings. It also hosted a block party – in this case spelled BLOC (Building Leaders in Our Community) – before school began.

A big change for the school will be the 9th Grade Academy, which will remain separate from the rest of the school. The students will be housed in a separate building, they will leave at different times and they will move together as a unit.

MLK also made news for an innovative new program in which almost all incoming freshman were visited by a counselor or other faculty member this summer, advising them and briefing them on their new school. The counselors introduced the new students to the school and the options – career technical education, graphic arts, culinary arts, STEM programs, Coded by Kids and automotive design. All are options to a more traditional pre-college course load.

The whole high school, The Promise Academy, will offer these programs as well as credit recovery and programs for students who are overage and under-credited and for those students who have left but want to return to school.

On the day of my visit, I met a young mother – baby in her arms – who was seeking advice on returning to school to secure her diploma. As I saw her baby, I hoped fervently that she would be able to do it and that those of us in the King, Philadelphia community will support all of these young people and their teachers, counselors, families and role models, and that together we work to redeem the dream of the man for whom the school is named.

It’s important that everyone gets a chance to realize that promise.

Shelly Yanoff is a Mt. Airy resident and the former director of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.

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