Pencil Me In

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments


Diane Satterthwaite remembers with pride how her mother helped build the witch's oven for her school's production of "Hansel and Gretel." Her mom's dedication to family and community left a lasting impression on her. But she owes her affable nature to her grandmother, whose death three years ago left a void that no one and nothing can fill.

"I cannot put into words what my nana meant to me," says Satterthwaite, who inherited her grandmother's love for entertaining. "Nana always had food and people at her house," she says with a smile.

She also speaks fondly of the aunt she spent languid summers with in Hot Springs, Va., who awed her with her knitting prowess and taught her the pleasures of country living.

Her older brother, the first in her family to go to college, was one of her most important role models. Her father, who at 72 still holds two jobs and shows no signs of slowing down, was another.

Family connections are important to Satterthwaite. She has lived in Philadelphia all her life. She stays close to her sister. And at 42, she still talks to her mother--who lives within walking distance--every day.

She's particularly proud of the stately stone house she and her husband bought three years ago in West Mount Airy, an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood not far from where she grew up. The house's freshly refinished cabinets, elegant earth-toned furniture, and collection of African-American lithographs flaunt Satterthwaite's flair for decorating. And with the holidays approaching, she's indulged a weakness for wreaths and lights, ribbons and pine boughs. On a small end table, handsomely framed photographs bring to life images of her family and two best friends--women she's known most of her life.

"My New Year's resolution," she reflects, "is to maintain friendships."

In a job newly created by the Philadelphia school system, Satterthwaite makes her living trying to create a safety net to help less fortunate children find the security and support she was lucky enough to have growing up. Since July, she's been on the job here trying to make sense of the available resources scattered around schools and communities so she can weave them into a coherent fabric.

She's called a family resource network coordinator--one of six the district has hired so far. But most days, Satterthwaite's hectic schedule seems anything but coordinated. Her days unfold in unexpected directions from a string of appointments, phone calls, and casual conversations with colleagues, community groups, parents, and school administrators. She darts from school and community functions to meetings with social-service providers to training sessions for principals. After following her trail for three days in December, it became clear that she's shaping and defining her role as she goes along.

One of the biggest challenges she faces, Satterthwaite admits, is "wondering if I will ever be able to see things through to the end." But she approaches the task with dogged optimism. "My favorite slogan is, 'Let's make it happen,"' she says.

"There is not a script for each of these coordinators to follow and no strict guidelines," observes Gary Ledebur, the executive director of Philadelphia's student services and family resource networks. "It makes their jobs harder, but it allows for communities themselves to design what's needed."

Satterthwaite's job grew out of Children Achieving, a five-year education-reform plan unveiled by Philadelphia schools Superintendent David W. Hornbeck a year ago. Hornbeck's reform agenda builds on 10 strategies for improving the performance and welfare of the city's schools and students. The piece of the puzzle that Satterthwaite fits into calls for creating family resource networks in which school nurses, counselors, and other support personnel work in unison with parents, agencies, and communities to help solve the myriad problems that stymie children's learning.

Other states have experimented with family-service coordinators for individual schools. And many have tried to bring state leaders and local providers together to rethink how they serve families and to carve out new roles for schools. But Philadelphia's plan, while still in its infancy, tries to tie together the support systems around schools so no one player or project is indispensable.

It is unclear whether Hornbeck and his supporters will have enough time--or get enough financial backing--to complete their overall reform mission. But the idea of trying to build a family resource network does represent a different approach, experts say.

"It requires that school personnel identify themselves more as community personnel," says Shelly Yanoff, the executive director of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, a nonprofit advocacy group. "That's an important way to think about these issues."

Like the Children Achieving agenda, the family resource networks are organized around groupings of schools bound by common neighborhoods and attendance areas. Six clusters are up and running now. But by September 1996, Hornbeck hopes to phase in the plan at 22 clusters covering all the city's 257 public schools.

Satterthwaite's cluster includes 10 elementary schools, four middle schools, and one high school in a five-neighborhood area made up of East Mount Airy, East Germantown, East Oak Lane, West Oak Lane, and Fernrock. Her cluster is the largest in the city. Martin Luther King High alone has a student body of 2,500 and a tumultuous history to go with it.

The cluster is mostly African-American and economically diverse, with a mixture of low-income and professional middle-class families, row houses and modest single-family homes. Half its schools are eligible for Title I funding.

With such a diverse and demanding territory to cover, it's hard to know how long it will take to bring enough cohesion to the system to make children healthier or improve their classroom performance. Rehashing her busy schedule with a colleague on the phone, Satterthwaite laughs as she puts down the receiver. "He told me that if I don't slow down, they're going to have me in Temple University Hospital with my appointment book clutched in my hand."

One of Satterthwaite's many appointments on this blustery Tuesday in December is, by chance, at a hospital. Accompanied by Fred Farlino, who oversees all the reform efforts in her cluster, she takes her seat at a conference table at the Germantown Hospital and Medical Center. Earlier this year, hospital officials asked her to help recruit students to plan a community health fair. Today, she and Farlino are eager to sow the seeds for a broader collaboration that they hope might one day grow into a comprehensive health center and mentoring ground for medical training linked to Martin Luther King High.

Audrey Jadczak, the hospital's vice president of health-care services, starts the meeting on a different note. She's concerned that some of the students involved in the health-fair project are losing enthusiasm; their numbers at planning meetings are dwindling.

Satterthwaite listens and sizes up the situation. She's gracious--but firm--as she spells out her position: "I cannot call 15 people prior to the night of each meeting," she says. "I have suggested that we tell the kids to create their own phone chain and include me in it."

She's quick to turn to brainstorming about better ways to keep the health fair on track. Her ideas flow fast and furiously. Recruit a larger pool of high school students rather than relying on the ones who haven't come through. Explore giving students some kind of stipend or credit for participation. Encourage students to find creative ways to publicize the fair. Put one of the group's particularly vocal parentsin charge of prodding students to stay involved.

Her suggestions pave the way for Farlino's pitch about working with Germantown and other hospitals and clinics to bring comprehensive services to the Martin Luther King High community.

Jadczak and Germantown community-development director Vanessa Jackson are receptive, but guarded. Jadczak estimates that a free-standing clinic--even without many of the features Farlino envisions--would cost at least $300,000. "That is a tremendous amount for us to consider for a facility somewhere out of the hospital building when we have our own wing that needs renovating," she says.

Back in her office at Morris E. Leeds Middle School, Satterthwaite pursues other school-health collaborations. She's on the phone with Roberta McGowan, the director of public relations for the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. State Rep. Dwight Evans has helped the cluster forge new links with the college, which wants to install a community examining room at Martin Luther King High and set up internships for students to learn about careers in optometry. Studies showing that optometry was not attracting minority students to the profession piqued Evans' interest.

To help kick off the collaboration,the college will offer free screenings at a local shopping mall--with Martin Luther King High students on hand to help. Satterthwaite agrees to get in touch with the mall to slot an exact time.

When two maintenance men show up to put together a new table in her office, Satterthwaite steps into a colleague's office, finds a phone, and keeps plowing through messages without missing a beat. She leaves word at two different numbers for Don Kieser, an executive with the Philadelphia Council of the Boy Scouts of America who tried to reach her several days ago. The two have been playing phone tag since.

"I'm anxious to hear what he has to say," she says.

When her table is ready, the men await her inspection. "Thank you much," she calls out as she pulls a plant from her window and plops it on the table. As if on cue, her two next guests arrive and pull up chairs.

David Smith and Frentzie Glover are here on behalf of Bainbridge Behavior Health Systems, a fledgling mental-health care provider of case managers, therapists, and peer-support groups. Their goal is to garner referrals from schools and draw support for a proposal to set up family centers on campus. Right off the bat, they ask her for a letter of endorsement.

Satterthwaite grills them about their services, experience, and fees in a congenial manner without making any commitments. The furthest she'll go is to suggest that she may pass along the name of their service as a possible referral source.

"I believe families and communities should have choices," she says. "I don't ever believe we should look like we're pushing just one thing."

After stepping out for a minute to confer with a colleague, Satterthwaite reminds Smith and Glover that their corporation will have to complete special community-health licensing if it wants schools to use its services. She also explains that any letter of endorsement would have to come from Farlino.

Satterthwaite later points out that many organizations have sought her out, hoping to cash in on what they see as a windfall of new funds. Last February, the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg pledged $50 million to the Philadelphia schools as part of a nationwide effort to shore up urban school systems. But the district must raise $100 million in matching funds--half from private and half from public sources--and the state has been slow to commit the funds Hornbeck had been banking on to put his agenda into action.

The district has allocated a special pot of "community liaison" funds totaling $1,085,000 to the schools in the first six clusters; Satterthwaite's cluster received $200,000. Each cluster's allocation is based on its schools' needs and population. "Everyone realizes there is money, but our monies are geared toward families," Satterthwaite says. "I understand that everyone has to start somewhere, but I don't want us to be the guinea pigs."

Satterthwaite knows what it's like to survive from grant to grant. She's been laid off more than once by nonprofit agencies when project funding ran dry.

Satterthwaite, who has a degree in family studies from Pennsylvania State University and has run several city youth-training and summer-jobs programs, says she gleaned the most important lessons about accountability in a nine-year stint at Philadelphia's Private Industry Council. She worked there as manager of youth programs under the tutelage of a dynamic black female director. "She made me realize that what you do goes beyond you," Satterthwaite says.

In her current job, Satterthwaite relishes helping parents and students learn to shoulder their share of responsibility. "Even volunteers need to set goals," she says. "They need to know that when you don't show up, it affects someone else."

She also makes it clear that her job is not about bending school rules, whether it's going through the right channels to refer a child for psychological services or explaining to parents that a school's late policy can't be waived for their child.

"I never want to supersede the policies and procedures of schools," she explains. "I tell them if they have a problem to speak to the principal."

Although she did some substitute teaching after graduating from college, Satterthwaite most recently joined the school district a year ago as an educational adviser to a program for teenage parents at Overbrook High in West Philadelphia. One reason she jumped at the chance to apply for the family resource network position was so she could work more closely with parents of all ages. Working with home and school associations--Philadelphia's equivalent of ptas--is her favorite part of the job. "You get not only the school perspective, but the perspectives of parents and the community--younger parents, older parents, grandparents," she explains.

At one such group she sits in on at the William Rowen Elementary on Monday, holiday workshops, bake sales, and fund-raisers top the agenda. But the small crew of parents--many with toddlers in tow--are gearing up to play more substantial roles in governing their schools under Children Achieving. Principal Steven Dash encourages parents to sign up for slots on the district's new school councils, which require strong parent representation. "If you are apathetic," he admonishes, "the principal or the teachers will run it."

At another school, Satterthwaite recalls, a mother approached her after a parent meeting to say she was reluctant to join because she feared that she wouldn't fit in with the group's clique. "This is not a club," Satterthwaite says, shaking her head. "That attitude can't be tolerated in any school."

At a Tuesday morning training session Satterthwaite sits in on, principals pick up tips on how to help parents, senior citizens, and other community members fit into their schools as volunteers. Because her job involves helping recruit and work with volunteers, Satterthwaite has come to listen and offer support.

Children Achieving has set out to recruit 10,000 new volunteers to the city's schools within five years. For Satterthwaite's cluster, that translates into 30 volunteers at each school. At the training session at John F. McCloskey Elementary, Joseph Meade, the director of Project 10,000, and Marty Young, a retired principal, describe techniques schools can use to find volunteers and tap their talents to improve school climate.

Several principals flock to her after the session. One proudly pulls out a report card to show Satterthwaite how well her learning-disabled son is doing in school. Another principal admits that the many demands of Children Achieving have left her feeling overwhelmed. "She didn't know how she was going to find 30 people to volunteer," Satterthwaite says.

Satterthwaite has hooked up with Rep. Evans to make the task easier. After the Million Man March in Washington, Evans organized a follow-up committee and hosted a dinner to drum up interest among neighborhood organizations in youth-mentoring activities. "Over 200 people came," Satterthwaite reports, "and people signed up on the spot to work with specific schools."

She and Farlino are also working with Evans on a plan to transform an abandoned factory near Martin Luther King High into a job-training center that could provide employment and training opportunities for students. Evans sees schools as a vital link to economic development in the city. And that vision is a boon to Satterthwaite's work.

"As far as you can see is as far as this can go," she says.

The warm reception Satterthwaite received from principals at McCloskey Elementary follows her wherever she goes. On Monday, when she got back from an out-of-town conference on school-to-work programs, her co-workers doled out hugs and bemoaned how much they missed her.

"They've even met Zoe," Satterthwaite says, pointing to the eight-month-old puppy pictured in a photo she keeps on her desk. Satterthwaite, a longtime pet lover, dotes on the floppy-eared dog; she even sets the timer on her television to make Zoe feel less alone when she leaves for work.

On the job, attending to children's needs is her main concern. At a Wednesday meeting at Francis D. Pastorius Elementary, Sue Glassman, a dental hygienist who has been checking children's teeth at schools throughout the cluster, says she has detected severe tooth decay in many students. But in the past, when the school has arranged to take parents and children to a nearby clinic, they've failed to show up.

Satterthwaite, Glassman, and Minnie Plez, a parent who serves as a school-community coordinator at Pastorius Elementary, are trying to figure out how to change that. Joining them is Gillian Stickney, a health consultant who coordinates a special Child Health Watch program at the school.

The four discuss conditions at the clinic that cause parents to shy away--like long waits and an inhospitable atmosphere--and hash out alternatives, such as bringing one of the dental workers to the school. Satterthwaite suggests inviting the parents to a school luncheon, where they could hand out free dental kits and information on dental care.

As the meeting draws to a close, Satterthwaite and Stickney also catch up on and share ideas about some of each other's health projects, including a community mammogram drive and children's eye exam campaign.

Back in her car, Satterthwaite notices that she's logged in 77 miles since Monday. It's a light week, though; no night meetings have cropped up so far. It's not unusual for her to devote three or four nights a week to school and community functions. She and Farlino also regularly attend police district meetings; they sit on a community advisory council that raises neighborhood concerns with law-enforcement officers.

Although she finds her work exhilarating, Satterthwaite thinks she could do a better job if she could focus on a smaller group of schools. Just keeping tabs on Martin Luther King High, she says, is a full-time job.

At a Wednesday morning meeting there, faculty member Sandy Newman chronicles the changes the high school has undergone in her 28 years on staff. The school was originally designed to function as separate "houses," but those plans have faltered on and off over the last 20 years due to budget constraints. Now, a cornerstone of Hornbeck's reform plan is to once again try to divide large schools like this one into more intimate units that teams of teachers can lead. Newman is coordinator of one such "small learning community" that specializes in health-related topics.

Martin Luther King High is in the middle of a battle to reclaim a reputation tarnished by tales of past violence. A teacher was raped here last year one day before school, allegedly by an intruder from outside the school. And The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a Sunday magazine cover story last September on the school's vigilant security patrol and its struggles to maintain order.

Today, Newman says, the school's stepped-up efforts to crack down on tardiness and keep hallways clear are paying off. Morale is on the rise. Satterthwaite is eager to help move the school past what she says are unfair stereotypes and build on its strong community ties. Photos and murals adorning the walls depict students earning recognition and experience in a web of community-service projects, senior citizens' seminars, and interactions with business and university mentors.

Chatting with Newman, Satterthwaite learns about several activities that she can help promote--like a new teenage pregnancy-prevention program involving nearby Chestnut Hill Hospital.

When a teacher grabs Newman in the hallway to tell her that one of her students won an award in a state essay contest, Satterthwaite urges her to send the details her way so she can spread the word.

"These are the positive things people in the community should know about," she says.

Thanks to a series of coordinated voice-mail messages, Don Kieser from the Boy Scouts is waiting for Satterthwaite back at her office. She takes heart in his presentation about what the Scouts have to offer and how he'd like to start troops at every school in her cluster. Scouting is the kind of activity, she believes, that can give children direction and a sense of community.

But she backs away from getting any troop started before bringing the matter up at one of the regular monthly meetings principals in the cluster hold to keep up with their school-reform efforts. Still, she proceeds with a list of rapid-fire questions about how much membership will cost schools and families, what kind of training and support Scout leaders need, what the school's role should be, and whether it makes sense, as Kieser suggests, to try to launch programs at churches and schools in the same neighborhoods at the same time.

At another meeting in her office on Wednesday, Satterthwaite also advises a group that runs conflict-resolution sessions for parents to seek more support for their program at one of the principals' meetings. Like many of the groups that troop through her office, this one's leaders can't understand why their angle is not at the top of the school administrators' agenda.

"Our principals are so overwhelmed, if we don't take a minute to call it to their attention," it won't get addressed, Satterthwaite points out.

After slotting a time to bring the matter up before principals, Satterthwaite and some of her colleagues veer off into a discussion about how they can coordinate their activities better and keep a more detailed calendar of all cluster activities.

Satterthwaite's own appointment book--crammed with countless notations on every day of the week--has gotten her through thick and thin. But one small, troublesome detail slipped by her today. Joe Foster, a teacher dressed in African garb, darts into her office to remind her about a date she has missed with his students. Satterthwaite had promised to bring a visitor by his classes for a tour of the "Songhai Empire," a series of projects on African history and culture by the 8th graders at Leeds Middle School where she keeps her office. "The kids were all ready," Foster says dejectedly.

Satterthwaite is quick to make amends. "I'll come tomorrow, just me," she promises. "I hate to disappoint people."

Vol. 15, Issue 19

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories