One in an occasional series.
The young ladies flopped onto the ground, their sneakers squeaking on the gym floor.
The Mitchell Elementary girls, gathered for a workout for their after-school running club, circled around their principal, Stephanie Andrewlevich. She leveled with them.
On Nov. 20, she told them, she's running 26.2 miles. She's a runner, but she's not entering the Philadelphia Marathon for fun or exercise. She's doing it because the school needs computers badly - 240, to be exact, at a total price tag of $94,000. The principal hopes her effort raises awareness of her students' plight.
"Mitchell doesn't have $94,000," Andrewlevich said.
The K-8 school at 55th and Kingsessing sits in a distressed neighborhood in the country's poorest big city, and its 550 students have enormous needs.
Last year, in Andrewlevich's first year as principal, the school made major strides in climate and spirit.
Once dirty and pest-infested, the 100-year-old building now shines. Suspensions are down and attendance is up. Students have more opportunities. They walk taller and shout out their motto proudly: "We are Mitchell! This is our house."
But Mitchell still has miles to go in academics - in the spring, just 3 percent of students scored proficient on state math exams, and 11 percent passed English exams. Mitchell was designated a Philadelphia School District turnaround school beginning this fall, bringing supports but also scrutiny and faculty turnover of almost 50 percent.
Andrewlevich, a 20-year educator with energy that rivals her most enthusiastic students', admits to being impatient.
"It's going to take a few years for our data to come up significantly," she said. "I want to snap my fingers and have everything be perfect."
One impediment is a shortage of computers, Andrewlevich said.
Teachers often have classes with students at achievement levels from advanced to several years behind grade level, and without technology to free educators to work with small groups, progress is difficult. With it, students not working directly with their teacher can have meaningful lessons, the principal said - not just busywork.
Mitchell teachers now have a program that helps them differentiate their lessons, but its classrooms lack enough computers to make it work adequately for all 550 children.
"We cannot raise data without this technology," Andrewlevich said. "My teachers are amazing; with just paper and pencils, they can make miracles happen. But you can't keep handing kids deficit after deficit and expect them to succeed."
So when she huddled with the girls last week, Andrewlevich laid it on the line. She was asking them to help lead a fun run next week to draw attention to the school's needs. She gave the girls signs to examine. One said, "equity in resources."
They talked about what that meant - how some schools have a lot of things, and some don't have enough.
"I shouldn't have to run a marathon to make this happen," Andrewlevich said of getting students the computers. "You shouldn't have to run to get what you need. But sometimes in life, you don't get what you deserve, and you have to fight for it, in a positive way."
So she was asking them and their classmates to run laps around the school, and to ask people they know to sponsor them in amounts that were not insignificant for families who may lack adequate food or a permanent place to live: $1, $5.
Together, she said, they could raise $2,500 toward the principal's bigger $94,000 goal. Perhaps other donors might help with the rest.
On Thursday, the few dozen girls who gathered after school were energized by Andrewlevich's charge.
"We need more stuff - computers and stuff," said Sanai Harris, a fourth grader. She nodded at her principal. "She's going to get us more computers."
India Williams, also in fourth grade, was happy to run, but she wondered why other kids didn't have to do the same.
"They probably didn't have to run to get their computers," India said.
Emily Sharon, a second-grade teacher at the school, used to work in a district where each student had an iPad. Philadelphia and Mitchell are another world, she said.
"This technology would be life-changing," said Sharon. "All we can do for the run is hope."
Sharon and Eileen Boneck, a Mitchell first-grade teacher, say that it's difficult to make sure students get the 45 minutes of technology time the school district requires they spend weekly on reading and math.
"We give up our personal computers so everyone has enough time to use them," Boneck said.
Andrewlevich, like much of her faculty, arrives at school early and stays late; she has a child of her own. She squeezes training runs in during her scant free time. She has a bad hip and will require a cortisone shot a few days before the marathon to power through it.
"Right now, I'm just running through the pain," she said. "But that's nothing compared to what our kids go through and what our staff does every day."
Summer runs were a slog for her, Andrewlevich said, all heat and lack of motivation. But by mid-September, with the school year underway, everything clicked.
"There are so many times that I just want to stop," she said. "Then I picture them - I see their faces."
She thinks, Andrewlevich said, of their struggles and of their resilience, their joy and their needs.
"Everyone," she said, "just needs to know how great these kids are."