PHILADELPHIA Nabriah Copeland has a few things she wants the School Reform Commission to know.
First, the Dobbins High student said, "We need more activities. Some students live in bad neighborhoods, and they need reasons to come to school. We lost a lot, and that's why kids are going to charters or leaving school, dropping out."
Also, the senior added, "We need more school books. We don't have enough. And more counselors."
Copeland and more than 100 students packed the Philadelphia School District headquarters auditorium Monday night for a unique experience - they essentially ran an SRC meeting. The commission's nonvoting strategy meeting was given over to teenagers, who asked their peers: Why are students disengaged? What is the role of adults? How can students help reconstruct the district?
They had plenty to say.
Bahsir Matthews, a student at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School, praised the dedicated teachers who helped him achieve. But more are needed, he said: "I want more teachers to say, 'I'm not going to let you fail.' "
Eli Levy, a senior at Masterman High School, nodded. Relationships matter. At his school, "sometimes you'll be in the lunchroom, and teachers come in and walk around and just see if you need help. Sometimes, they'll just sit down and talk to you."
At Motivation High, "there's low student morale," senior Omar Koroma said. "We have a couple teacher vacancies, and that shouldn't be. We lost a lot of teachers this year, and community relations people."
Koroma is aware of the district's brutal budget - its financial picture is so dire that officials were not certain they could open school on time. But he has an idea: "Let students get involved, pitch in to plan and organize things."
Zubaida Salman, a sophomore at Northeast High, wants the higher-ups to know that her classes are crowded - some have 38 students, which exceeds capacity.
"It gets noisy," Salman said. "Sometimes, some students in the back don't really get to see the board."
Arnelle Downing, a senior at Masterman, wanted the SRC to know that budget cuts haven't just nibbled away at her school's edges. They've cut into the heart. A math class that would help her get into the University of Pennsylvania has been wiped out, Downing said. That could affect her future.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. went from table to table, listening in on the discussions. What did he hear?
Students want art and music at every school. They want hands-on learning experiences - "make the work relevant, make it real for us," Hite recounted.
He vowed to take back what he had learned.
"It's really important for you all to communicate to us - who always think we know what you want, but may not always talk to you," Hite said.