‘I don’t blame Mastbaum. I blame the School District of Philadelphia.’

(Photo courtesy of Brett Smith)

My name is Brett Smith, and I am a Jules E. Mastbaum High School alum from the class of 2011. Being a Philadelphian has shaped my life in a tremendous fashion, but attending schools in various neighborhoods throughout the city taught me to survive and flourish in just about any type of environment. Today, I reside in Columbus, Ohio, pursuing a career as a HVAC technician. I’m also a music artist by the name Spark$ Cardiay

My parents, relatives, and I are all native Philadelphians yet, not one of us resides in the city as of today. My mom and sister now reside in Georgia, and my father in Darby Township, right outside of the city limits. My parents grew up in the Germantown and Mount Airy neighborhoods and attended Germantown High. My sister and I grew up in the Oxford Circle area. 

I went to Mastbaum solely because it was the best school I got accepted into. Also, my neighborhood high school was Samuel S. Fels, and my parents didn’t want me going there due to a bad reputation. As a Mastbaum student, attending school in Kensington exposed me to a part of the city and lifestyles I had never experienced before having to make my daily commute. As I traveled from the Allegheny train stop on the Market-Frankford Line to Mastbaum, a five-minute walk seemed like an eternity. I saw syringes, vast amounts of trash that covered the ground, and fights on a daily basis. One could only imagine what an eight-hour school day would hold in store for me, five days out of the week. 

Yet, for some strange reason, I can’t help but feel like the experience helped mold me, and it forced me to adapt to the living conditions in Mastbaum’s neighborhood. In addition, most of the people in the neighborhood looked and talked just like me. The only contrast was that I would often find people falling in and out of consciousness, and at the time, I couldn’t comprehend what was taking place. During my freshman year, the experience was a lot to process, but by my senior year, I felt I knew the ins and outs of Kensington. I’m now 27 and fully comprehend the overdose crisis in Kensington that has placed its grips on the community.

Mastbaum allowed me to attend school with a large number of Puerto Rican and Dominican students, which I hadn’t experienced before. My Latino peers taught me how to swear in Spanish, which I still consider amusing until this day. Those students also taught me the cultural traditions of Latino people that allowed me to experience Latino cuisine like pastelillos and a type of cookie called Florecitas, which tasted amazing. Lastly, I created bonds and friendships that still hold value until this very day. 

As far as my education goes, attending Mastbaum didn’t exactly prepare me for what life had to offer after high school, but it gave me an outlook on what life could be like had I not done what my parents expected from me. I attended Penn State University for five years pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Media Studies with the option of Film and Television. When I got to college, I was lacking in areas that other kids excelled at because they attended schools that provided a better educational experience. For example, knowledge of basic grammar and how to differentiate words that are spelled alike but have separate meanings. However, I don’t blame Mastbaum. I blame the School District of Philadelphia for the lack of educational resources and teachers who didn’t and couldn’t relate to my upbringing as an inner-city minority youth. 

Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful and proud to have obtained my high school diploma from Mastbaum, knowing the challenges I faced on a daily basis. I don’t think I would have developed into the person I am today without the challenges I faced attending Mastbaum. That chapter of my life will always hold value to me, and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.


Editors: Solmaira Valerio, Zari Tarazona / Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese

What did you think about this story? Send a note to editors@kensingtonvoice.com, and we’ll consider publishing it in our Voices section. You can also tell us what you think in person at our neighborhood events.

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