Overbrook: School Mergers Raise Concern for Youth Violence

Bonnee Breese,teacher at Overbrook High School, spoke about her experience teaching at Overbrook High School.

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As the school year comes to a close for students in the Philadelphia School District, some last days will be more somber than usual. The district’s plan to close 23 schools citywide, three of which are located in the Overbrook community, will be effective June 30.

Samuel Gompers and Overbrook Elementary Schools will close and students will be redirected to Dimner Beeber Middle School. Robert E. Lamberton School will close its high school program and redirect students to Overbrook High School.

Overbrook High School students walked to their morning classes.
Overbrook High School students walked to their morning classes.

Overbrook High School will receive an increased amount of students from various parts of West Philadelphia. The majority of students will be from Lamberton High School, University City High School and the Architectural Design and Drafting Career and Technological Education.

Although the efforts of Gompers Elementary did not prevail in keeping the school open, Beeber Middle School will remain open.

The School District of Philadelphia will also explore incorporating other educational programs at Beeber. The District will consider if school community’s proposal to turn Beeber into an Arts and Academics Plus Academy is viable.

The original recommendation by the District would have closed Beeber and relocated seventh- and eighth-grade students to Overbrook High School.

“More students would be victimized, not just physically but sexually as well,” Bonnee Breese, teacher at Overbrook High School, said. “Last year we saw 9th grade boys who were fathers, hormones are roaring and it’s worse when you have a 12th grade boy or girl telling a younger student they’re cute.”

Hearings to revisit community proposals were originally set for April 18, but Beeber’s closure was ceased earlier than expected after a shooting at Overbrook High School.

“Bernard Scott is an angel for us and for [the] children,” Breese said. “His death put a screeching halt to the plan to shut down Beeber Middle School and bring their seventh- and eighth-grade students here.”

Although Beeber has decreasing enrollment and struggles to achieve academic standards, its shortcomings were matched with passionate community members who opposed the closure. Beeber was ranked on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Persistently Dangerous School list for 2013.

“As educators, we knew it wasn’t going to work,” Breese said.

Although most Overbrook students are used to students from various neighborhoods, bringing students from other communities could initially cause an imbalance.

Bonnee Breese, teacher at Overbrook High School, spoke about her experience teaching at Overbrook High School.
Bonnee Breese, teacher at Overbrook High School, spoke about her experience teaching at Overbrook High School.

“The territorial rights to the community do exist in the schools” Breese said. “Philadelphians know that, school employees know that– I’m not sure why the SRC closed their mind and eye to that and brought everything down to a dollar.”

To deal with the multimillion dollar deficit in the District’s budget, Superintendent William Hite announced the Facilities Master Plan in December to close and consolidate schools which did not meet District standards.

“It’s only going to make things worse,” Marvin Debose, a West Philadelphia native and graduate student at Edinboro University, said. “There’s so many underlying problems with underperforming schools and the city.”

Debose attended Philadelphia public and parochial schools before attending college.

“Any of us can do it,” Debose said. “We all have more greatness and potential than people realize.”

Community members are concerned even more cuts will be made to youth programs.

“In the last 10 years they’ve taken music and art programs and gymnastics all out,” Ubaid Shawkii, retired military officer and youth mentor, said. “If you’re taking more programs out, what is our public schools system but a pipeline to prison?”

Ubaid Shawkii watched youth at Tustin Playground to make sure they weren't creating mischief.
Ubaid Shawkii, retired military officer and youth mentor, watched youth at Tustin Playground to make sure they weren’t creating mischief.

Shawkii is concerned decreasing resources and increasing school populations will cause community decay.

“This multi generational trauma is leading to the problem,” Shawkii said.  “Now everyone [doesn’t] know each other and it leads to fragmentation.”

Schools in close-knit Philadelphia neighborhoods are personal to residents. The schools are vital parts to maintaining the harmony of neighboring communities.

“By middle school, kids identify down to their intersection,” Will Mega, life-long resident and community activist said. “Overbrook is typically the place they [kids] come to rid themselves of the barriers.”

However, as school mergers approach it is unclear if Overbrook will still be the mediator of West Philadelphia communities as new students transition to “the castle on the hill.”

“The District cannot afford to continue to pay for empty space,” Deidre Darragh, Philadelphia School District Office of Communications, said. “Closing buildings is one of the many difficult things we must do in order to make new investments in our schools, rather than continue to pull money out of them.”

The final hearings, with the exception of Beeber and M. Hall Stanton Elementary, were held March 7.

“This was a difficult vote,” Pedro Ramos, School Reform Commission chairman, said in a press release. “But it focused on our goal to provide safe, high-quality seats while being fiscally responsible.”

Due to school mergers, resources will be placed into fewer schools. The District is looking for alternative ways to bring a bright future to students.

On April 24, the district announced it will support surviving schools by expanding on high-performing schools with a $6 million grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership’s Great Schools Fund.

Overbrook: Neighborhood Rivalries Left on the Court

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