Sunday, March 1, 2009

Demise of PA Governor's Schools of Excellence

Economic hardship. Budget cuts. I understand that we need to make hard choices. Our state education system just cut the leaders of tomorrow out of the budget. Gone are the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools for Excellence: five-week, boarding summers schools for students of promise. (High school students need to apply, audition, interview etc. to be accepted into these prestigious programs.) It cost about $2.7 million to run the 8 programs that make up the schools: Agricultural Sciences (PGSAS), Arts (PGSA), Global Entrepreneurship (PGSGE), Health Care (PGSHC), Information, Society & Technology (PGSIST), International Studies (PGSIS), The Sciences (PGSS), and Teaching (PGST). Once again, mediocrity rules.

This is devastating to an educational climate that is already prejudiced against achievers. No Child Left Behind has been great in getting kids who are just shy of the middle line to raise their scores--so necessary for schools to keep their funding. This is where teachers and administrators and school boards are concentrating their efforts (often at the expense of arts programming--another of my gripes). But kids who naturally do well on the tests are getting the shaft. Why concentrate on helping those kids fulfill their potential when they can be left on autopilot and meet expectations held by the state? If I haven't be vocal on this issue, it is because I am busy supplementing my own kids' education by taking them to museums, watching documentaries, reading to them (yes I still read to my kids, ages 11 and 14) and getting them involved in extra-cirricular activites.

Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones and herself a past student at PGSA says it this way:
"How, in a nation that idolizes its infants and children, can we find it acceptable to abandon them on the cusp of making their dreams - dreams that will be greater and more important than our own - become realities?"

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial 'Scandal for Schools' says this in : Why cut great programs for the best students?' published on 2/7/08, "America needs super-achievers to scale the heights as much as it needs underachievers to meet firm standards. Nothing is more important to a nation lagging in science and math and seeking to stay internationally competitive than to encourage a culture of high achievement among its youth."

I am biased. I spent two summers at the Pennsylvania Governor's School of Arts: one as a student going into my senior year and one as an assistant instructor just graduated from college. It is not an understatement to say that this program changed my life. In many cultures, youth are sent out on a vision quest. PGSA was mine. I spent the summer with other kids who were at the top of their game in the arts and teachers who were dedicated to catching my attention while they had it. No sweating for grades. We were in this for the pure experience. In my summers at PGSA, I made jewelry, sculpted, learned improv, saw my first independent film, learned to draw in a new way, wrote poetry, learned to knit, learned sign language while teaching deaf students, read some great new authors, attended dance and theater performances, learned about art history, took leadership training, and learned photography skills. And here's the kicker--only about half of that was part of the curriculum. The other half happened as a result of hanging around other creative kids who were blooming in this environment.

A year after I went to PGSA as a student we had a reunion where two alumni were given awards for their leadership over the past year. What had they done to take the arts and the experience of the school back into their communities? The competition was steep because these kids were on fire. I didn't win. Didn't even come close, though I had done much upon my return including helping young kids write, produce, and create a puppet show. In an era of arts funding cuts, this kind of leadership is a real boon to the community. And the loss of it, is devastating.

I am personally going to be writing letters to my PA state congressmen (Mike Brubaker and Tom Creighton) in the hopes that this program is one of the first to be reinstated when our economy gets up and running again. We cannot afford to ignore our brightest scholars. My kids are entering 9th and 7th grades next year. My hope is that these schools are back in time for them to strive to earn the title Govie.


yokotei said...

i am a high school junior who just this year applied to the PGSA for visual arts. i didn't find about about this budget cut BS until a few days ago, when i went to my art teacher and asked if she knew why none of my three other classmates and myself had received any notification about the next round of judging. i've heard wonderful things about the program from my teacher and the PGSalum who are still just seniors at my school.
though i suppose this is an exaggeration, i can't think of a better word for it; i'm really devastated that this program has been cut. i had hoped that i'd at least be able to make it to the second round of judging, to at the very least, get an idea of my standing against others my age who are planning on persuing the arts.
i'll admit: i'm writing this partly to vent, partly to mourn the loss of this program and the opportunities it had in store.i also need to stop living in my hole and expecting the world to keep turning and not feel the effects. something like that...

Jill Althouse-Wood said...

I have been told that all hope is not lost. Individual program still need to decide how to handle this. It is out of the education budget and looks unlikely for 2009. Today I am writing to my state congressmen and the PA Secretary of education. (if you can't find these online, let me know and I'll help. ) We need to raise a stink so they know how truly valuable these program are.

yokotei said...

raising a stink is the least we can do

Ginger Root said...

Jill and I met at PGSA, heck I met my husband there that summer. I can't imagine my life story without it. What a sad day this is.

Alien said...

PGSA was probably the single most significant life-changing experience of my youth. I developed my self-identity as an artist during that magical summer.

All I can say is, Pennsylvania sucks. PGSA was the last good thing in that backwards state.

OK, I still love the Eagles.

TicToc7 said...

What ended up happening with this? I live out of state; attended PGSA long, long ago.

yokotei said...

since the college which orignially hosted PGSA was unable to obtain private funding for this year, they were unable to run the program. other PGS programs were able to get funded and stayed intact, i know the business and agricultural science ran for certain.
the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center (LPPAC)offered a program in place of PGSA, to all those who had applied this school year. i reapplied and didn't get in.

so far as i know the governor's school programs are going to be in consideration for next year's state budget or whatever it is called.

Joshua said...

I attended PGSS 2001, and TA'd there in '04 and '05. Without a doubt the best thing Pennsylvania ever did for me. Obviously, I've been extremely upset about this. Perhaps even scarier, though, is that it's not confined to Pennsylvania. Kentucky just did the same, North Carolina significantly cut back, and I'm sure other states are doing the same. If Pennsylvania's program was, in fact, a model that other states followed, it seems to be continuing that tradition, in the most unfortunate of ways. I'm continuing work with some people trying to revive PGSS through non-government sources while trying to get it added back into the budget for next year. I'd imagine PGSA has a group for that too. Let's hope we can make it happen!

Samuel Cohen said...

I'm an alum of 79. Just heard about this now. How very, very sad. And very short sighted. I have yet to meet anyone who has gone through this program who doesn't look back on it as a life changing experience. I look forward to and will work towards this program's ultimate restoration.