Germantown: Educators and Students Speak About the Effects of School Closures
The school closings in Germantown have disrupted the lives of children in multiple ways, but the repercussions are not limited to students alone. The closures have simultaneously impacted the community including its residents and local businesses.
Since 2011, Andrew Snover has been the program director for the after-school program run out of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, located on the corner of Germantown Avenue and High Street, across the street from Germantown High School.
“There are kids that spend their whole life [in Germantown] and you get a community out of that,” Snover said. “As soon as you start closing those schools and kids have to cross gang lines, neighborhood lines or whatever it is, than you’re taking away part of the reason that Germantown has whatever small amount of community feel that it has.”
As of last year, the 14-year-old program has expanded to welcome more than just high school-aged students due to the recent school closures and plans on continuing to do so.
“[Kids] need a place to be after school? It’s okay,” said Barbara Mitchell, retired assistant principle of Edison High School who has worked for the school district for 35 years, about taking in kids who want to participate in the program.
In the coming months, with the closure of Fulton Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School and Germantown High School, the role of youth programs in the community, like the one offered at FUMCOG, will become even more important, if their funding continues.
Mitchell, who also volunteers at FUMCOG’s after-school program, shared mixed feelings on how students will acclimate to their new schools while stressing the new responsibilities parents will have to assume.
“Students at this point feel deserted, they feel they’ve been let down,” Mitchell said, “The objective, of course, is to make them feel accepted in the new places that they go. We’re not sure how that will work out, but if we’re here to help through that next year, I think that will be extraordinarily important to the kids. What’s going to happen with parents? I hope parents don’t get dissuaded from going farther distances or places that they don’t know very well.”
Snover grew up in Germantown. While he said he has witnessed some positive changes taking place in Germantown, the school closures may create a significant change in the community.
“There’s no way to fix up a neighborhood and rehabilitate a neighborhood while simultaneously undercutting the biggest institutions that make it a neighborhood in the first place,” Snover said.
Students will be faced with new obstacles in furthering their education and the kids who attend the after-school program have openly expressed their concerns to Snover.
“The biggest thing is the feeling of chaos and nobody is sure what’s going to happen and you feel that in behavior and attendance,” Snover said. “For a lot of the kids at Germantown, the school is the most consistent thing in their lives.”
Volunteers of FUMCOG’s after-school program expressed their belief that these schools play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of these children and that the needs of these students have been neglected by decisions to close these schools in Germantown.
“I think every school was like the heart of its community,” said Deborah Grill, a retired teacher and a volunteer of the program. “I’ve always seen school as the thing that keeps the community going. I think there will be a big hole and it may be devastating.”
Students who attended Fulton Elementary will have the option of attending the kindergarten through eighth-grade establishment that Roosevelt Middle School will be turned into. High school students who attend Germantown High will have the option of attending Martin Luther King High School in Germantown or making farther commutes.
“Kids have said to us, ‘I’m not going to another school, I’m afraid to go to another school,’” Grill said, “I know the kids are afraid to go to King [High School]; they’ve voiced that already. I can see kids dropping out.”
Low attendance rates were already a problem for schools in Germantown, so the main concern is what will happen when a new obstacle is presented to students and parents: the introduction of a commute for many.
“We’ve already heard about businesses that are going to close just because they get most of their business from students,” Snover said.
Snover deemed the closings as having an entirely negative effect on the community; the futures of businesses in Germantown are now in jeopardy as they are largely dependent on the students who frequent them.
“If there are no students here, every one of these businesses here out on Chelten Avenue and Germantown Avenue say they’re in trouble,” said Mitchell, “They’re barely making it now and with all those kids gone who frequent these stores, we’re not sure what will happen. So the community itself may be in turmoil.”
The decision to close the three schools located in Germantown is not only negatively affect students and parents, but these decisions have also caused concern in the community and for local businesses.
“The chaos and uncertainty, it affects everybody, us and the kids alike,” Snover said.