Budget Cuts Mean Lack of Emotional Support in Philadelphia Schools
[caption id="attachment_862" align="alignleft" width="198" caption="Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn"][/caption] It’s a new year and with that will come many new milestones for students, teachers, and school districts. However, among these milestones is the none-too-pleasant budget preparation for the 2012-2013 school year. As in recent years, many districts are feeling the crunch because of dwindling property values (read: tax levies) and decreased funding from all levels of government. This has spelled lay-offs at a massive scale for almost all large districts, and Philadelphia Public Schools are no exception. A “Guardian Angel” Victoria Yancey has worked for Philadelphia schools for over three decades. She began as a classroom teacher before moving up through the ranks as a school counselor and assistant principal, then she became a violence prevention officer before gaining the title of “special representative” responsible for serving as a liaison between students, their families and district employees dealing with trauma and loss. Her job ranged from counseling families on the loss of their children to violence to leading workshops with teachers following the lay-offs that have occurred in the past few years. Her message has always been one of peace and non-violence. This past Saturday, Yancey joined the ranks of the laid-off teachers of America as Philadelphia schools made the determination that her $80,000 salary was just too much in times of economic burden. Called a “guardian angel” by many in the community, Yancey laments that her “wings were clipped” in this move to save a few bucks. The Need for Counsel Dr. Victoria Yancey holds degrees in both counseling and education. She is a licensed therapist as well as an ordained minister. Her work in Philadelphia schools ranged from simple one-to-one counseling for those dealing with loss and grief, to funeral arrangements and fund raisers, accompanying families to the morgue and answering the phone late at night. She led violence-prevention workshops as well as group counseling sessions following tragedy. More than a job, Yancey describes her work with the district as a “calling” to aid grieving souls in one of the country’s most violent cities. Throughout the years, Yancey’s work as amassed a following of volunteers throughout the community, many of whom are spiritual leaders. Though the district claims that they will find “other staff” to fill in Yancey’s shoes, her friends know that it was the wealth of her experience with loss specifically that helped aid students and their families. Unfortunately, the changes in administration in recent years have also changed the schools’ priorities. Though the cost savings of eliminating a “non-essential” position such as this one are clear, the emotional and spiritual toll taken by eliminating Yancey’s position is immeasurable. Priorities in the New Year School budgets are tight, this is a fact. Over the past several years every district across this country has had to make tough decisions in the interest of the bottom line. The impacts of these decisions, however, will not be fully calculated for a few years. As stated by one of Yancey’s supporters, many of the choices administrators are making are “penny wise, pound foolish.” In this New Year and in everything we do as educators we need to take the full effect of our decisions into account. What legacy are we leaving children, especially children in areas ripe with violence and death, when we take away their support and their comfort in favor of test scores? What is the message that lay-offs send when the choices that we make are to eliminate those responsible for the emotional intelligence of our children?