Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s public school students have very little to look forward to this year. As they return to school this week, they will encounter a radically reconfigured school district. Over the past few months, 24 schools have been shuttered and 3,000 employees have been laid off. The consequences of this reconfiguration are significant. Over 9,000 students will attend a different school than they attended last year. An astonishing 60% of public schools will not have a guidance counselor on staff. There have been numerous reports of class sizes reaching into the 40s. The well-publicized $304 million dollar budget deficit has led to shortages of teachers, support staff and basic necessities like paper. These are truly dark educational times in Philadelphia’s public schools.
Yet, there are beacons of hope shining through the clouds of despair hanging over Philadelphia. South Philadelphia’s Dion Waiters, entering his second season as a member of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers has tried to lessen the burden on some families and teachers by providing school supplies and book bags for several hundred Philadelphia families. “Education is the single most important issue in our community, I want to help provide kids with the supplies they need from day one”, said Waiters. “This year, especially, I want the kids to know that someone is there for them.”
Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Waiters has concentrated his early philanthropic efforts on serving children in his childhood neighborhood. This summer he supported the Point Breeze Youth Development League and co-sponsored the Dream Chasers Sports & Entertainment Summit.
Waiters, who would be entering his senior year at Syracuse University, has developed a keen sense of responsibility at a young age. “I love South Philly, it has shaped me into the man I am. But, I realize there are many things that kids see and hear about that should not be a part of their lives. Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of friends and people I knew to violence and the criminal justice system. My God given basketball abilities have allowed me to attend some of the finest schools in the country. But I never stop thinking about the young people attending public schools in Philadelphia.”
Watching Waiters interact with the children during the Book Bag Giveaway, one senses that he understands the impact his presence has in South Philly. Upon arriving, he took the time to acknowledge and greet every parent and child individually. He posed for pictures and patiently autographed the book bags for the adoring children. Waiters explains, “I understand the predicament these kids find themselves in. The district has a big deficit. But, the kids didn’t do anything wrong. I want to motivate kids to stay in school and study. There were moments when I didn’t perform at my best as a student. I was fortunate, there were always adults around me that helped me keep my eyes on the big picture. I want to help these kids do the same thing. This is just a start, we plan on impacting education in a big way over the coming years.”
The “Back2School Book Bag Give-a-Way was organized in conjunction with the office of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and the Point Breeze Youth Development League. As Waiters prepares for his 2nd NBA season, he looks to improve on his All-rookie performance last year. Off the court, the young man is already an All-Star.