Friends Select’s SCECE Club Gives Students a More Global Perspective

Located at the heart of Center City Philadelphia, Friends Select School is home to the Student Committee for Extra-Curricular Education (SCECE), which was founded with the goal of helping students graduate with a greater appreciation for both the Philadelphia and international community, as well as the cultures and events that impact it. Through this program, rising senior Sophie Gilbert and I wanted to create a space for students to not just discuss what’s covered in our school’s curriculum but to explore their interests and have globally-minded conversations.

The first thing we identified was a gap in students’ knowledge and understanding of one of our close neighbors, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has been highlighted most recently in the media after it was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017. After hearing about this tragedy and observing how our country reacted to it, we wanted to understand more about Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States. We realized that we, ourselves, and our school community knew much less about Puerto Rico than we had thought, particularly because there isn’t a formal course or curriculum that discusses it in our school. This both surprised and concerned us, considering Puerto Rico’s close relationship with the U.S. and the high population of Puerto Ricans living in Philadelphia. As a result, SCECE has become a platform for us to use our city’s resources to help provide Friends Select’s students with a well-rounded understanding of both the culture and issues surrounding Puerto Rico. 

We began by hosting an assembly for our high school with Denice Frohman, a Puerto Rican poet from New York who currently lives in West Philadelphia, and Raquel Salas Rivera, the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia who has immigrated from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia. The two poets read a selection of their poems and shared stories about their unique experiences, touching on things as small as their relatives’ accents to the large injustices Puerto Rican citizens face. The poetry provided an accessible way for students to connect to the newly introduced topic and gave a taste of Puerto Rican culture and heritage, especially in Philadelphia, while also teaching about the struggles faced by Puerto Rican residents following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Denice Frohman and Raquel Salas Rivera

Since students were now more familiar with Puerto Rico, we brought in Oskar Castro, a Puerto Rican parent and board member of Friends Select, to speak to students. He discussed his feelings about Puerto Rico’s status as a Free Associated State and the struggles he has faced because of this, especially focusing on how he navigates this within the Quaker community. Dr. Hortensia Morell, a professor emeritus at Temple University, also came in to give students a more in depth look at Puerto Rican history, beginning with the indigenous Tainos and subsequent Spanish colonization to U.S. possession and current events.

We also wanted to show students the greater global connections of Puerto Rico and welcomed Dr. Thomas Farren, a Spanish teacher at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School for an assembly attended by the entire high school. Dr. Farren discussed how he found connections between his Irish heritage and Puerto Rico, leading him to study Puerto Rican poet Luis Lloréns Torres for his masters thesis. Dr. Farren identified the similarities that he found between Ireland’s fight for freedom with Torres’s themes of Puerto Rican independence. He also discussed the Irish culture he found when he visited Puerto Rico as a result of the immigration of Irish citizens to Puerto Rico during the Irish famine. Many students and faculty were able to connect with this, as many have traveled and found, to their surprise, a connection to their own culture in a place they did not expect.

For the conclusion to this year’s focus on Puerto Rico, SCECE wanted to involve the greater Philadelphia community in learning more about Puerto Rico. We hosted a public screening of the new touring documentary, Jurakán: A Nation in Resistance, which focuses on Puerto Rico’s status as one that resembles a colony as well as the struggle and dissent that has resulted from this. It highlights the Puerto Rican Nationalist Movement of 1950 and interviews with over 40 Puerto Ricans who shared their unique experiences.

The evening ended with a Q&A with the producers Rosa Emmanuelli Gutiérrez and Gonzalo Mazzini, leading to a passionate discussion with the audience of what must be done to create change, with hopes that the popularity and coverage of the documentary could educate and involve a greater network of people.

For more information about this project, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].


Article written by Sophia Becker on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association