Making change happen at Gratz H.S.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Congratulations to Quan Blanche, the Notebook‘s Central Region “Changemaker for Schools.”

Quan Blanche was instrumental in starting the Simon Gratz High School chapter of the Philadelphia Student Union when he was a ninth grader there in 1997. He has continued to be actively involved with the Student Union ever since, even after graduating from Gratz in 2000.

Eric Braxton, executive director of the Student Union, describes Blanche as an “incredible person,” someone who “is really passionate about making things right in the world.”

According to Braxton, Blanche quickly rose to a leadership position during the first year of the Gratz chapter, helping to recruit new members and get the chapter going.

That year, Blanche helped organize a campaign for new textbooks that resulted in the principal buying $8,000 worth of new books for the school.

That initial involvement led Blanche to work on other issues including school funding, student-teacher relationships, school tokens, and privatization. He also took on leadership roles within the Student Union, becoming responsible for building relationships with teachers and administrators at Gratz and facilitating student meetings. The Gratz chapter has come a long way since that first year. “People were skeptical about the organization and what our role was going to be like with the students, whether we were going to try to corrupt the students and turn them against everybody,” Blanche says of the first year.

Now, he says, “I feel like we have a voice. And it shows because now when things are about to go down, people actually come to us — not only students but different teachers and administrators.”

“It shows that we’re starting to have power,” he adds. “I’m proud of that.”

Blanche continues to be involved with the Student Union as a volunteer, lending assistance where he can and helping to build the Gratz chapter. “Quan has played a strong mentoring role to a lot of students,” comments Braxton. “He is one of those people you want to have around; he makes things go better.”

Blanche’s advice to students wanting to make a difference in their schools?

“Find organizations like the Student Union or other organizations working on school change because you as a person, you can’t do it by yourself. It’s proven that when you have numbers of people — that’s when change starts really to happen. Get involved and speak your mind.”