Jay Cooke Elementary, RIP 2013

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Cooke has been open since 1922.

 

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A very hungry caterpillar mural- and some trash.

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An empty playground lot- no hoops, no play structures.  Leif was not impressed.

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Another vibrant and ironic mural of community gardening- a wishful thought that doesn’t seem to get implemented on the ground (literally).  Cooke Elementary has no visible gardens.  The vision is there… why isn’t this vision a reality?  Why are the school murals all of some fantastic and implausible reality that is just, just, just out of reach?  Are they meant to taunt the children and the community with what should be- but is not?  Do the mural paint an image worth working towards that no one can muster the energy to achieve… no one can take a pick ax to the concrete lots and pull them up- or put down container gardens??

 

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Fairhill Elementary, RIP 2013

Fairhill was the first school I visited that was not in a majority African American community, but in a Latino community.

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Painted over simple locks on the front doors.  As with many schools, you have to be buzzed in through a security system.  Schools are not open, inviting, neighborhood institutions like they were when I was a kid just 20 years ago.

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Leif cavorts with the kids at recess under a blooming tree.

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A vibrant mural wraps around the school, which has a fence on the first floor roof with an overhang to prevent breaking and entering.

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Kids at play on the large lot- no gardens or play structures here.

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Caddy corner to Fairhill lay the remnants of Northeast High School one of the oldest schools in Philadelphia, opened in 1903.  The High School was moved, and a new High School, the Edison High School was opened in its place in 1957.  The school was relocated in 2002, leaving the building abandoned until a fire destroyed it in 2011- making for some weird pictures of smoke pouring out through solid stone masonry.

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Signs for the ‘no drug zone’ in front of the Northeast High School… did the signs work?

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The comcast building peeps out from being the old Edison/Northeast High building.Image

Is Edison High  a harbinger of things to come for Fairhill?

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Ancillary education programs in ornate and abandoned buildings line the streets near Fairhill- like this ‘Asocicion de Musicos Latino Americanos.’  That their sign has been removed after many years of advertising is perhaps a broader message of disinvestment.

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Ferguson Elementary School, RIP 2013

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The school is across the street from a churchyard and religious(?) site.  This barbed-wire topped fence surrounds a lot with a mound topped with a cross.

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There were street repairs at the entrance of the school.

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A trash-filled parking lot… an easy thing to fix if anyone cared to.

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The blacktop area has one functioning hoop.

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The other backboard is broken.  Some shoes dangle from the phone wires in the background.

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An open dumpster at the entrance to the schoolyard.

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Can you imagine children learning to read by spelling out every letter of every word they see.  “Keep our schools clean.” “Cunt butt.”  Would this sort of thing (open dumpster, prominent placement, graffiti cuss words) fly at Penn Alexander- or one of the Lower Merion Schools that compete for Philadelphian families (and win)?

 

 

John G. Whittier Elementary School

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Whittier is 100 years old this year… and in celebration.  It is being shut down.

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Details in the brickwork.

The playground area has an open dumpster in it- another pet peev that I have seen at many schools.  Open dumpsters have no business being near small children.  They are an eye sore and a health hazard (the dumpsters that is… not the children 🙂

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Right next to an autobody carwash and the James Allen Shuler Playground which has a pool, hoops in good repair with lights (!!!), a baseball diamond, a totlot and a playground for bigger kids.  The parks department has done an awesome job of keeping the community play area in good repair- and that they can do that in the same neighborhoods where the school district has failed to replace basketball hoops speaks to the bankruptcy/bureaucracy/ineptness of the school district and their facilities departments.

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Leif plays on the playground with Whittier in the background.

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The baseball diamond and pool are AMAZING facilities that I wish were near our Lea Elementary home school.  That Whittier is on the edge of Fairmount Park is yet another fabulous resource that it could draw from for classes, programs, and after school activities.

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Leslie P Hill Elementary

Cojoined with Strawberry Mansion High School, this elementary school is slated for closure this summer.

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There are bars on all four stories of the Elementary school- but grating over the windows of the high school?

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The playground is pretty stark and looks like an empty distillery or factory lot.  At least there is one functional basketball hoop.

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A tree grows through the chainlink fence.

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A rusty padlock on the outer gate.

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We were still hungry and could not find a place to get food.  The school has an autobody repair shop and used car dealership next to it and there is what I assumed was a liquor store (Kitchen 89) advertising ‘cold beer to go’ but nothing that looked like a fresh fruit or sandwich shop.

On the edge of fairmount park, this school has a lot of athletic and sustainability-education potential.  Not to mention the synergies of having a cojoined high school to share resources and overhead costs with.

Anna B. Pratt Elementary School

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Mural on the school entrance reads, “I am from the soil beneath the gray concrete.”  How many beautiful, strong people could be nourished by the soil beneath Philadelphia’s gray concrete?

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Beautiful mural with a pitbull, a horse, and the city in the background near the school.

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Little footprints in the concrete sidewalk leading out of the school- most likely not an intentional design- but a flaw that speaks to the little lives that bring their joyous chaos to the school.

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A Pre-K from a nearby daycare enjoying the new playground area.  Leif loved it too- and this is a playground that is widely used by ancillary groups on the weekends and week days…. one that I wish we had at Lea Elementary.

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Leif traverses the ‘Cruelty Free Zone’ and makes a B-line for the play area.  He was overjoyed that this school even had a play area after visiting so many others that did not even have a jungle gym.

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I am always obsessed with investigating the hoops.  As a kid that spent A LOT of time playing basketball, this feature in a neighborhood and school is important to me.  There was not one functional hoop on this court- which though wide enough to be to standard had diminutive posts- and wouldn’t be too much fun for weekend hoops.

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Kids at recess.  you can see how vast the grounds are- and how perfect they would be if re-done to include some functional play areas, gardens, grass, etc.  Also, the school had bars all the way up the windows- even on the top floors.

I should also note that Leif and I were hungry- and the two businesses that front this school are a funeral home and a liquor store- no smoothie joints or fruit stands.

Fulton Elementary School

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Like many of the schools up for closure, Fulton is attached to its high school, Germantown High- which is also slated for the chopping block.  

The glorious art deco entrance at Fulton reminds me of the Sphinx from the Never-ending Story.  The statue guardians are wise and imposing, poised to ask a riddle.

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Fulton Elementary was built in 1935.  Bars from the metal fencing cast their shadow over the stump of a tree.  I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism in this one.

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A historic house is nestled into the Fulton campus, along with several historic churches.  This is the sort of building that tourists flock to Old City to see.  I cannot help but think that these historic landmarks should be major assets to their public schools.

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An empty, concrete playground lot with no basketball hoops or jungle gym structures.

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Parents wait to pick their kids up from school near an open dumpster which takes up the middle of the backlot walkway space. 

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What broke my heart most about Fulton was all the inspirational motivational sayings painted on the base of the building.  Behind a chainlink fence, this slogan reads “learn and achieve.”  The cupola of a church is seen in the immediate background.

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“Knowledge is Power!” 

Yes, knowledge is power. 

Perhaps these photographs will share the knowledge of how our schools are being closed? 

By taking away the source of knowledge in this community- is the school district taking away this neighborhood’s power? 

The message smacks of irony, but not as much as some of the other self-empowerment slogans: 

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A motivational slogan inspires with the phrase, “don’t let others create your future, create it yourself!”

Yes, Fulton parents- don’t let the School Reform Council create the future for your children- create it yourselves… and how?  Protest the school closings in those few ounces of free time you have.  Go up against a wealthy, well-educated, powerful city government.

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Perhaps I just cringe for any self-empowerment slogan- but the contrast of these slogans in an asphalt schoolyard where low-income, black parents wait to pick up their kids from a school that is doomed for closure in a poor neighborhood with a lot of blight and crime- just feels too righteous.  By closing the public school, this community is not even afforded the opportunity to pull itself up by its own bootstraps… if you believe that kind of thing can happen to begin with.

‘dare to dream’

(which assumes that kids are not daring enough… and what if they are?  What of those dreams?)

“respect comes to those who give it.”

(This community is certainly not getting respect…. Are they not giving respect?  Is that the problem?  if this community simply respected the School district, they would be rewarded with a good neighborhood school that stays open?

If you give respect to the School Reform Council- will they give you respect in return?  It seems like the most luck school and community groups have had is in organizing mass ‘in your face, fight like hell’ campaigns…

The S’s in this slogan are reminiscent of dollar signs- something that makes the slogan ring more true.  If you change out ‘respect’ for ‘funding’ – then you get another saying that more accurately captures what is happening on the ground.  ‘Funding comes to those who give it.’  Too true.  How many state and city representatives have received campaign funding from charter and private school enthusiasists?  Wouldn’t that funding sway our public officials to sell off public amenities- like schools- and sanction privatization with little public oversight or influence.  Does this community have any funding to give to sway the political machines that oversee their educational institutions?)

“If you believe, you can achieve.”

(I believe we can achieve with our public schools… but it will take more than belief.  It will take a schload of constant hard work and capital investment.  Where’s the slogan that says that? ‘If you work like crazy all night and day, you are bound to make a small difference.’)

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“Be the change you want to see.” I want to see a playground, with grass, a garden and fruit trees.  And a basketball court.  And a cover over the dumpster.  And windows without bars on them.  And a free, high-quality neighborhood public school that stays open.  Where classrooms sizes are about 15 students per teacher, and each classroom is equipped with projector screens, computers, fish tanks, a pet rabbit and lots of natural sunlight.  Where teachers have decent salaries and have all the classroom supplies that they need: construction paper, pencils, teaching assistants.  Where parents volunteer and chaperon their children’s class on field trips to nearby Philadelphia institutions and for projects around the city.  I want a society that values high quality education for all our children, even and especially those in low-income neighborhoods.