Awake You Sleeping Giant!

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Parent Tonayia Coffer
Parent Tonayia Coffer

Despite the frigid temperature on Thursday afternoon, over 100 people crowded the corners of Bustleton and Cottman Avenues, one of the busiest intersections in Northeast Philadelphia chanting to the beat of Northeast High School’s marching band: “S.O.S. – Save our Schools!” “Whose schools? Our Schools!”

The rally – supported by PCAPs and Parents United for Public Education – was not only a protest against the funding levels for Philadelphia’s public schools. It was a call to action for the entire Northeast. As a member of the Northeast community and a parent of public school children, I feel we have been way too quiet.  It is far time for us to join the fight and make ourselves heard about our wonderful yet overcrowded and poorly funded neighborhood schools.

Parents United leader and Fox Chase parent Tonayia Coffer helped organize the Northeast rally. (Photo: Harvey Finkle)

It was empowering to be among the crowd of fellow parents, teachers, students, and advocates. PCAPS stated in an article that:

Rally organizers hope to build on this and develop a Northeast area network that can strengthen the fight for public education. The Northeast region has a reputation for strong, neighborhood schools, but the current budget crisis threatens to unravel public education throughout the city. Cuts to bi-lingual staff at schools that serve large immigrant populations and severe overcrowding at some schools are particular concerns for the Northeast.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

I simply say, “Awake sleeping giant!”

This systematic attack is upon our families, the very future of our neighborhoods, our city, and this nation.  The appointed and the elected officials are provoking a sleeping giant.

Who is the sleeping giant?  WE, the parents in the Northeast and all over this great city are the sleeping giant!

Photo: Harvey Finkle
Comly student Leianne Yancey declared her love of playing the violin. (Photo: Harvey Finkle)

The power lies within us and we must fight against these unjust attacks.  Not with physical weapons but with thoughtful action, our vote, our voice, our pens and our very presence.  We can no longer continue to allow our children to be marginalized, underestimated and under valued.  We can no longer sit idle while our schools are stripped of critical resources and our great teachers, principals, and staff are  left unequipped.

Our elected officials are playing a cruel game with the future of our children.  Our kids are not a priority to them. Education was meant to serve as our country’s “great equalizer” yet the state is making this less of a reality.  Parents are being forced to make decisions to opt out of public school often at the expense of their family’s well being. Some convince themselves that their child is better off without it, but are they really?

Public education is our right.  We cannot afford (literally) to ignore the issues surrounding public education. Regardless of whether you have a child in a traditional public school, a charter or a private school, a poorly educated society benefits no one.  The stories of the dangers of a poor, under funded education have been told.  No one will escape the impact this has on our economy and the overall well being of our communities.

Members of the Northeast High School marching band opened the rally. (Photo: Harvey Finkle)

There is no time to for self-centeredness, there is no time to look at this issue as “their problem.”  The public education crisis in Philadelphia affects us all, today and assuredly tomorrow.

We, the parents will, through our righteous might win through to absolute victory, but only if we wake up to this sad reality and stand as parents united. It is now time to make the time to advocate for our children by any means necessary.

How you can take thoughtful action:

  • Get informed by reading articles on or other news sources.
  • Volunteer at your neighborhood school to see firsthand what the issues are. Talk to the principal, teachers, and staff about the impact of the cuts and what the schools greatest concerns are.
  • Form an Advocacy group at your school and talk with other concerned parents.
  • Schedule a meeting with your local councilperson, legislator and ask them what they’re going to do about funding your child’s school. It helps to give them a clear ask for your child’s school (i.e. librarian, aides, etc.) Ask your friends, neighbors, parents (or members of your advocacy group) to come along.
  • Write a letter to your local elected officials about what your school needs.
  • File a complaint with the state Department of Education at By law, the state must investigate complaints about educational and curriculum deficiencies. Parents have filed more than 800 complaints from 90 different schools. Hold the state accountable. File a complaint!
  • Join a coalition – your local Home and School, Parents United for Public Education, PCAPs, Action United. Get active, get engaged!

If you don’t think you can do any of the above, simply show up at the next rally at your school or in your community and be accounted for.   There is power in numbers.

Now is the time to awake and act!

Tonayia Coffer is the wife of a great educator and mother of four children, two of whom are at Fox Chase Elementary School. She is a member of the Leadership Collective at Parents United for Public Education.  She is an everyday parent that is passionateabout public education and will continue to do all that she can to raise awareness and help other parents find their voice.


Photo Gallery by Harvey Finkle

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