This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Charlotte Pope
Students from University City High fought their school’s closing on their home turf Wednesday night, after following Superintendent William Hite from forum to forum, throughout the city.
Under the District’s plan, the University City building will close, and the students will be given the option to transfer to neighborhood alternatives, which include West Philadelphia High, High School of the Future, Sayre, and Overbrook. Paul Robeson High School’s building is also slated to close, with the Health Related Technologies and Human Services programs to be relocated as citywide admission academies at Sayre.
The prevailing opposition came from students concerned about the collisions between school cultures that would come with co-location. How would schools handle student discipline and mediation among peers? The recommendation was made by students from University City to merge the school with nearby Robeson, with students from both schools favoring that outcome. Multiple student petitions were presented to Hite.
Matthew Gilliam, a University City senior, stood alongside his younger peers.
“Our problem with these recommendations is a lack of concern for community-based learning and safety,” Gilliam said.
“Our students are being sent to West Philadelphia High, and since the beginning of time, these two schools have not gotten along. With our students getting mixed in with that type of crowd, the dropout rate is just going to shoot right back up, and our success rate is going to fall right back down.”
Rhonda Davis, a junior at University City, supported the idea of a merger with Robeson, long considered a sister school.
“I don’t feel comfortable with the future, and I don’t feel as if spreading us out across the city is a good thing whatsoever. I just think it is going to be chaos,” Davis said. “I don’t even like the thought of it. I think it is going to be dangerous for everyone — students, staff, faculty — this is a dangerous transition to have to make.”
Andrew Saltz, a 10th- and 11th-grade English teacher at Robeson, would potentially be making the transition to Sayre, a move he finds difficult, considering differences in neighborhood climate and rates of in-school violence.
“These kids are not going to go to Sayre,” Saltz said. “Every kid has told me that they are not going, and not because they are being unreasonable, but because they are absolutely terrified.” Saltz said he also relayed that message to the superintendent and staff.
“They are going to go to charters. They are going to be home schooled. They are going to find whatever avenue they can to get out,” Saltz said.
At the close of the meeting, University City students rushed into the lobby to put on a school-spirit pow-wow before District staff had a chance to leave. The pow-wow quickly became a rally of students dancing in a circle, cheering the name of their school and calling on friends to take the center and lead a chant.
“You cannot relocate culture,” Davis said, before rushing to join the demonstration of school unity.
Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.
Photo credit (second photo): Charlotte Pope