From the outside it looked like a regular block party but those participating in the party knew it was more than that. A moon bounce, face painting, food and music were not enough to get the people of St Cyprian School to forget that this would be their last time together. Students, staff and parents said their last goodbyes to St Cyprian, 6225 Cedar Ave. in West Philadelphia.
This interesting celebration took place on Cedar Avenue off of Cobbs Creek Parkway on Friday, June 10, 2011. The fun and games masked the sad undertone felt by many who will be affected by the school’s closing. The school staff was dedicated to spending much of their time giving back to the community but as giving as they were it wasn’t enough to keep the school open.
Many thought it would be the students who would feel the brunt of the emotion. The small classrooms sizes offered at St Cyprian are unusual for schools in that area. Denise Cajina a teacher at St Cyprian thinks students might have a hard time. “The students will have to adjust to new schools this coming fall. We provide a homey atmosphere unlike many schools.”
Jackie Ritter the director of the after school and summer programs thinks the schools is unique compared to surrounding schools.
“When I came here I felt so welcomed,” Ritter said. That welcoming atmosphere is a part the school’s reputation. From the time the school was opened they had an agenda to be a staple of positivity.
St Cyprian’s fifth grade teacher Elizabeth Geary had a long history with the school. She along with the other faculty made it their mission to promote positive energy. “Our goal is to uplift the neighborhood, enrich lives, encourage students to go on to bigger and better things, and they have not disappointed.” Her fondest memories are those with the students and seeing them transform into bright young individuals.
As the faculty member with the longest tenure Geary said she was overwhelmed with sadness but she refused to let the news of the closing upset her. She had nearly 40 years ago beginning when the school went by a different name. “It started out as Transfiguration. Then they merged with St Carthage. Then it became St Cyprian about ten years ago.” Geary worked at Transfiguration and St Carthage for 28 years and St Cyprian for ten years. She will miss the students the most but she also said that the people she worked with were some of the best. Geary proudly discusses the joy of returning students who thank teachers for their time spent at the school. This time, however, this will be the last time returning students will have a school to go back to.
Geary and other faculty members were surprised by Cyprian’s closing. The unexpected news came when enrollment numbers dropped. Jackie Ritter, a director at the school, was involved with a lot of the schools activities. She said she thinks the closing has a lot to do with economic reasons. “The school is tuition based and with this economy people were not enrolling as much. It’s sad but there’s not much more we can do. I’m sure there are more reasons but I have not been informed.”
This will be a big transition for everyone involved. Staff, for example, will be the ones who will have to find new jobs. But the closing still hits hardest on the children. As one student said, “I will miss my friends that I also call my family, I will miss this place I don’t think there is another school like it.”
Some of the parents that came to the block party with their children had some positive words to say about St Cyprian. “It’s a very demanding school,” said Maxine Williams. “They want your child to do their absolute best and that is an A in my book. The teachers are pleasant. My child has been there since her pre-school days and she is advancing everyday. The work she receives can be challenging at times but it only helps her to prepare for the next grade. The tuition is well worth it also.”
The principal of St Cyprian, Ms. Paula Jones-Hawkins, was upset about the school’s closing but that reality was not going to take the enjoyment of gathering with the community away from her. “Listen, there is nothing more we can do. We fought long and hard to try and change the inevitable. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. Today, I just want to enjoy my friends, my family and the rest of the community that has decided to join and support us in our final hour.”
St Cyprian had preached the same message as every other Catholic school did in Philadelphia, “Keeping Faith in Mind.” The school had first opened back in July of 2000.