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Philadelphia’s military academy students plead to save their schools

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

by Charlotte Pope

Dressed in uniform, students of the military academies at Leeds and Elverson came to District headquarters Tuesday to hear alternative proposals to the planned relocation of both schools.

They joined parents, teachers and community members — about 40 attendees in all — at the meeting, the fourth of an additional six sessions that the District scheduled this month to focus on individual schools or groups of schools slated for closure or relocation.

The District has proposed to move Elverson and Leeds to the Roosevelt Middle School building, combining them to create Philadelphia Military Academy High School.

Parents and community members affected by the District’s proposal for the schools presented five alternatives to attendees at the meeting. Among them were a recommendation to merge the two schools in the Elverson building, instead of Roosevelt, and two recommendations to merge at the Leeds building.

Just a few weeks ago, Superintendent William Hite made a request for alternative proposals to the closure plan. Those plans, which are posted on the District website, may influence the final recommendations. Testifying before City Council on Tuesday, Hite said that he would announce changes to the specifics of his closings plan early next week.

Danielle Floyd, the District’s deputy chief of staff, said that relocating the military academies would benefit the school system because moving the schools to Roosevelt would give the District “an opportunity to house both current student populations and allow us to grow the enrollment and grow the program.”

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn added, “Elverson is potentially too small because it wouldn’t allow for the schools to expand. We felt as though Leeds was a little too far away and we had another facility that was vacant that we felt would best accommodate the combined school.”

Though District administrators made a logistical case for relocating the schools, students from both academies made individual pleas for why their school should stay put.

Eric Howard, an 11th grader at Leeds, said moving to Roosevelt could mean a lack of support for students.

“We need a community that supports us or is familiar with our program. We will not have that at Roosevelt,” he said.

“I want to actually find a location that is inhabitable for all of us, and an environment that will motivate us to do better.”

The Leeds military academy currently enrolls 248 student and Elverson has 205.

Emilio Albright, a 10th grader at Elverson, said he understands that the merger has to happen and doesn’t have a problem with it, but he noted that the Elverson building has 17 vacant classrooms, more than enough room to accommodate current students, the population from Leeds, and an extra 100 students.

“We just want them to come here because it is a central location from both ends," Albright said. "As a special admission school, we have to think of location.”

The move could most affect students entering their senior year, with the transition potentially disrupting the college application process. But Jamal Moses, an 11th grader at Leeds, has accepted what he sees as the inevitable.

“We are bound to merge, so as long as the environment is OK for me to travel and the facilities are good, I will be fine with the move,” Moses said.

“We’re going to lose numbers during this process. But to make something we’re going to have to lose something.”

Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.

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