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Educator Lobbies for Public Schools at Music Festival

September 3, 2013 By:
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Philadelphia teacher Heather Marcus on stage at the Made in America music festival over Labor Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Marcus.

A guidance counselor who spoke out about budget cuts wreaking havoc on the Philadelphia School District in the Exponent took her message to the stage at the Made in America music festival this weekend.

Heather Marcus, whose position at a magnet high school in the city's Fairmount neighborhood was eliminated in June, said she was thinking about all the money the festival must generate and wondered if any of the artists would donate some of their profits to the schools. 

The South Philly resident joined Twitter on August 29, just two days before the event, and began tweeting all the bands that were scheduled to appear. After spreading the word to Masterman's parent association, hundreds of people chimed in to help solicit donations, she said.

"I figured that, even if no one was willing to donate money, at least I could bring some attention to the cause," said Marcus, 41.  "It seems crazy that the city and the Made in America festival probably made millions this weekend while the students who live right down the street from the concert are going to bare-bones schools."

She tweeted so much that her account triggered an automatic suspension. But a friend noticed that rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy had tweeted her back. WIth help from her and another colleague (both also Jewish, coincidentally), Marcus was able to get in touch with the musician, who offered to donate $2,000 to her cause and invited her to speak during his set on Saturday. 

On stage, Marcus rallied the crowd to stand up for city students.

"Do you guys think every student in Philadelphia deserves to have a full time certified school counselor?" she asked. "So contact your elected officials, tell them to stop playing games and fund the Philadelphia public schools. These students are our future!" 

Marcus was one of three counselors at J.R. Masterman School before her position — and hundreds of others — were eliminated amid budget cutbacks. Masterman now has one counselor to serve its 1,200 students. Marcus was given the option to take a teaching position at another school. She now teaches classroom guidance and character education lessons at Lawton Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia.

So far, Marcus said she hasn't heard of any other bands chipping in to her campaign. But, she said, she hopes to continue bringing attention to the plight of the school system.

"I had this little crazy idea and look what happened," Marcus said. "People need to realize that they need to speak up and do something because nothing's going to change if they don't. So many people feel like it's a hopeless case and they just give up. But if you just give up, the governor's just going to bulldoze everyone and that's going to be the end of the Philadelphia School District." 

An unexpected bonus from the whole experience: Marcus said a former student told her that Masterman graduates were all talking about how they were proud of her "and that I had inspired them."

"If I can inspire students to stand up for what they believe in and take a chance on something that seems like a long-shot, then I'm happy."

Click on the multimedia tab for a video of Marcus speaking at the festival. 

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