Every day, Penn State first-year student Raven Moore makes time for a phone call with her mom. They are close—growing up, it was just the two of them. “She works 12-hour shifts, but she’s always there for me,” Raven says.
She is just a few weeks into college, but it feels more like years. The immersion in a community of friends and professors is good for the 18-year-old. She’s always thrived in learning environments where she knows her friends and peers.
Three years ago, her Pittsburgh high school was closed down, displaced by an International Baccalaureate magnet school with mostly white students. The district made students choose between two lackluster schools, one reputed to be the worst in the city.
Raven’s mom decided they needed another option. They packed up their house and moved to a new school zone.
But going to a better school meant parting ways with her teachers and with her friends, who ended up at one of the original two options. “I can’t say that I liked my senior year, all of a sudden being the new kid again,” she says. “I didn’t really adjust until two months before graduation.”
The transition was painful for everyone affected by the consolidation of Pittsburgh’s public high schools. Most of the schools that have closed were in predominately African-American areas.
Throughout the year leading up to the closing, Raven reports there was an air of helplessness and depression in her school. “As kids we joke about hating to go to school—but at the same time, you do not want your school to disappear,” she recounts. “I thought to myself, ‘This is happening and I can’t do anything about it.’
“That was the moment when I realized things had to change so it wouldn’t keep happening to others.”
Raven had been involved with Racial Justice through Human Rights, an AFSC project in Pittsburgh, since her sophomore year. Students in the group came from different backgrounds, attending private, charter, suburban, and urban public schools, and seven experienced their own schools closing.
Perhaps because they were so close to the problem, many of her peers thought they couldn’t change it. “It wasn’t an obvious issue to take on,” Raven remembers. “But I felt strongly about it. We had to say something or it was going to get worse.”
Pittsburgh’s elected school board operates independently of the city government, and it didn’t seem right that they could make decisions on closing schools without considering who would shoulder the burden—or which school communities would be torn apart. Raven recalls thinking, “The mayor and everyone else should be able to step up and tell the school board they can’t just close these schools.”
The students successfully lobbied Pittsburgh’s city council to become a Human Rights City—a city in which the human rights of all its citizens are respected and that works towards better living conditions. This declaration gave the city a baseline for conversations about education as a human right.
In college, Raven is working toward a degree in sociology, and she hopes to go on to law school and become a defense attorney.
“I like advocating,” she says. “I feel like that’s a good job for me.”
Education reform remains an issue close to her heart. She knows that not every child is lucky enough to have the kind of support her mom gives—and that it’s a big part of how she got through the havoc of her school closing. “Kids who come from families that aren’t healthy get left behind,” she says.
In her old district, as elsewhere, additional public schools are closing in the next year as enrollment declines.
“More people need to get involved, even if you don’t have kids in public school or they’re out of school now,” she says. “The whole community needs to take part in making education better.”
Raven joined a panel on education justice as part of an interactive International Day of Peace event in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. She contributed to a short video about education inequality in Pennsylvania that was screened.