Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs was an award winning British TV show that aired on public television during the 1970s. It detailed the lives of servants, who lived downstairs, and their wealthy employers, who lived upstairs. The story is set shortly after the turn of the 20th century and the great historic and social happenings of the time are integrated into the story.  At Auto, we have our own version of upstairs, downstairs, fraught with drama set against our 21st century urban landscape.  

The Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering is housed in a two story building a block away from West Philadelphia High School.  On the ground floor we have three auto shops and classrooms. One is for body work and the other two are devoted to auto technology, where Ron Preiss and Jerry DiLossi teach. The West Philly Hybrid X Team works in the center shop.

Upstairs are all our academic classrooms, a computer lab, offices and a cafeteria. Some students do really well on both floors. Others have a very distinct preference for one or the other. Some kids are adored by their academic teachers and are rude and disrespectful to their shop teachers.  Some kids will do anything in the world for their shop teachers and mouth off to their academic teachers. There are constant stresses between the floors. There are also stresses in the community that make their way into school.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 50% of African American teenagers are unemployed. In Philadelphia, the overall unemployment rose to 11.2% in February, more than double what it was in 2007. Barely 50% of students entering Philadelphia public schools graduate in 4 years. The dropout rate is staggering.

In spite of all of this, we have a wonderful group of students who work with us on the EVX Team. We don’t mean that they are all perfect students with perfect report cards and test scores. They are not immune to the problems of the city or those of urban education. We mean they are wonderful to work with in our after school program. We get to see them as young men and women who work on cars, write letters, deliver speeches and blog.  

Sometimes, like a TV show, drama and emotions boil over.  For the kids and the adults, it’s an emotional rollercoaster.

We had a real Upstairs, Downstairs day today. Downstairs, teachers and students worked into the night to get our cars ready to go to the Michigan International Speedway. Upstairs, a fight in the cafeteria, spilled over into the hallway necessitating the presence of the Philadelphia Police Department.  I’m not even sure that everyone downstairs knows the scope of today’s incident and the impact it will have on some team members.

This is real life. We won’t win an Emmy for today’s episode.

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