Concerned students, educators and community organizers gathered at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 35th and Baring in West Philadelphia to attend a panel discussion on the future of University High School.
University High School is slated to close its doors. It’s the result of the local School Reform Commission (SRC) deciding on cost-cutting measures for the School District of Philadelphia.
The panel, hosted by Philadelphia writer, Solomon Jones, and sponsored by Axis Philly, NBC-10 and other organizations, focused on the possible uses of the building should the school close.
Panelists for the forum included: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Algernong Allen, entrepreneur; DeWayne Drummond, president of Mantua Civic Association; George Poulin, Powelton Village Civic Association; Allan Domb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors and Emily Dowdall, researcher for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We are going out into the community across the city and talking to them about what they want to happen with the school building that is closing in their community,” he said.
Jones noted it was the opinion of those on the panel that the community must have a say about the subsequent uses of school buildings that the SRC plan to close.
“We wanted to bring people together around this issue we hope that the energy that we have here in this room today will propel the community forward,” he said.
To ensure the community was truly represented, Jones made a concerted effort to reach out using social media and through various local organizations to ask who the leaders in the community were so that they could be represented at the forum.
“We were able to identify them and work through them to really talk to and talk through the people in the community,” Jones said.
The author also went to schools and talked to the teachers, who in turn informed their students about what was being done. The outreach efforts paid in attendance.
Nearly every seat in the church was filled with both adults and youth, who were not only students of University City High School, but surrounding schools as well.
Most of the students worked on the Urban Nutrition Initiative farm, which grows fresh organic fruits for local residents in a campaign to provide healthy food choices for nearby residents.
The farm, 13 years in operation, was dear to the hearts of the students who worked there and was the major focus of the students in attendance.
Jahnae Robinson, 17, attends George Washington High School and worked at University City Garden.
“It affects everybody,” said Robinson. “I don’t go to school there but I work there.”
“It’s good for the community and we’re helping others by helping ourselves,” said Shalisa Gilliard, 16, who attends the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Gilliard said the University Garden represents 13 years of hard work of the students.
“It affects the community, not just the school,” she said.
Mika’al Broadus, 16, attends University City High School and stated the school should remain open because of many of the programs offered. He used the Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) classes as an example.
“We had that, it was actually its own academy, and we had to shut it down and rename it something else,” he said.