Ten-year-old Chelsea Mungo was blunt about the conditions at her school when she recently wrote a letter to State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), pleading for more equality in the state's funding of low-income, black schools vs. wealthier, white schools.
"Every day I go to school, I feel like I'm in a prison or a junkyard," Mungo, who is black, wrote about Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School in West Philadelphia, where she is in the fourth grade. "Why does the color of the students' skin matter how much money we get for our school?"
Mungo, whose class plans to meet Tuesday with Hughes to discuss funding, was among dozens of students across the Philadelphia School District who presented projects Saturday on quality-of-life issues ranging from school funding to littering to bullying.
The presentation at Girard College was part of the National Liberty Museum's Young Heroes Outreach Program.
Mungo, whose letter to Hughes was presented with her school's project, said she believes the problems at Cassidy — leaky pipes, mold, overflowing bathrooms — gain less attention because she and other students are black.
She has a point. A study by data researcher David Mosenkis in 2015 found more state funding went to Pennsylvania school districts with white students than districts with nonwhite students. Such money could be used to repair infrastructure.
"White schools get more money, and black schools get less money," Mungo said, stating the point simply. "The race and your skin color — that's a part of racism."
The School District has estimated it would cost $26 million to repair Cassidy and $32 million to replace it.
At William Rowen Elementary School, 9-year-old Laniyah Wilson and other students focused their project on trash cleanup in the city's West Oak Lane neighborhood.
"People see trash cans, but they still just want to throw it on the ground," Wilson said.
Dr. James Murray, the school's principal, had students use their math skills to analyze the amount of trash on nearby streets, and then talk to neighbors and business owners about ways to clean it up.
Murray said students are "frustrated by traveling to and from school and looking at all of the trash on the street."
In response, they painted a mural at the front of the school. It reminds everyone, he said, to keep the school and neighborhood clean.