Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his heroic brother Yonatan, and baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson went to Cheltenham High School. Nationally syndicated talk radio host Mark Levin and 1985 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Michael S. Brown went to Cheltenham. I mention this because philly.com noted some of these achievers when trying to provide some context to the brawls that went on at the high school in Montgomery County.
I often ask listeners to my radio show to call in with a list of accomplished people who went to their high school. The idea is to see which schools over the years produced great achievers. Which schools, through a blend of high expectations, competition, traditions and great teachers, produced greatness.
For example, Upper Darby High School produced Dr. Jack Ramsay, Jim Croce and Tina Fey. Overbrook High School produced Wilt Chamberlain, Will Smith and astronaut Guion S. Bluford Jr. Cheltenham High produced thousands of outstanding people and had a tremendous reputation. What happened?
I think the headlines of the last few weeks that indicate wild brawls and reports of a major lack of discipline in the school should not indict the entire student body. My guess is that a group of students are causing the problems. However, I think it is a significant group.
Kathy Boccella writing at philly.com notes that groups of Cheltenham parents think the video of a brawl we saw last week and news reports of a situation where teachers feel disrespected and even fearful are not reflective of Cheltenham. One poster on Facebook actually argued that "even award-winning, excellent schools have issues with crime and violence."
This is classic denial. I've taught in schools like this and when I went through the February school-climate survey that the Cheltenham Educators Association delivered to school officials, I saw a picture of chaos. The description of many noisy people in the halls during class time, people popping into classrooms and disrupting teachers, and students routinely challenging teachers' authority are classic signs of major problems. In a situation such as this, many teachers feel overwhelmed. They are under such pressure that a drive toward creativity and excellence can be detoured into a survival mode. I feel sorry for the kids trying to excel who are hurt by students and their parents who are causing problems. It is up to the administration to push back and stop the disrupters.
I think it was appropriate that four female students, three juveniles and one adult were arrested last week around the melee we saw in the media. Paul Gottlieb, the Pennsylvania State Education Association representative, told philly.com, "While we are very cognizant of the school-to-prison pipeline, we're also very concerned about the safety of our members and of the students." I get the fear of setting students off on a course that results in possible jail time, but the things we saw on the video are possible crimes.
Cheltenham students posting on social media with the hashtag #ThisIsCheltenham have tried to counter the recent media coverage of the school with pictures and personal stories that underscore their pride. However, calling what's been going on as "little incidents" and headlining a photo of students with "Proud to have went[sic] here for 13 years" might not be the best way to counter the perception people are developing about the school. I also don't think it's a good idea to punish the students who posted the video of the fight that shot with cellphones. Such a threat smacks of a cover-up. The best solution is for parents, students, teachers and administrators to demand an immediate end to the disrespect and chaos that has been tolerated for too long.
This final month of the school year is a good time to set a new tone that will carry into next year. While this is being done, it's a good time to hit the media with stories of the recent accomplishments of Cheltenham students. Clearly, Cheltenham High School was once a jewel. It's time to go back to the basics that made it great. Tough academics, traditions and high expectations never grow old.
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at www.domgiordano.com.