University City High School may be closing, but the discussion about its future is far from over.
Wednesday afternoon, NBC 10 and Axis Philly, a local nonprofit news and information organization, hosted a panel entitled “What’s Next? A Forum on the Future of University City High School” at the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
Axis Philly reporter Julia Bergman said that her organization aimed to “engage the public in conversations of public interests and issues that matter to people” and encourage people to think “in the longer term and follow through.”
She added that Wednesday’s panel was part of the Schoolhouse Watch project, which Axis Philly created in response to the Philadelphia school district’s 23 slated school closings at the end of the 2013 school year. According to its website, Schoolhouse Watch is a “community forum in which you can share your ideas” about “what will ultimately happen to the [closed] school buildings.”
“What’s Next?” focused on the future of the building which currently houses University City High School, among the schools that the school district intends to close this spring. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said that the “first use the school district said it would support was building a new school.”
Alan Domb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, added that these new schools may be most effective if they also have new goals.
“We need to combine a [traditional] high school curriculum with teaching specialized skills,” Domb said.
He added that schools should be “training kids for specific professions, so they can get jobs out of high school,” further emphasizing that these potential new schools should focus on training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics so as to maximize job opportunities available to graduates.
The UCHS plot is not, however, guaranteed to become another high school. Urban researcher Emily Dowdall noted there are a variety of other possibilities.
“A lot of school buildings end up as schools again, but some end up as recording studios, community theaters, [and] medical offices,” she said. “Schools are important to a community, but there are other uses.”
In spite of this discussion of UCHS’s closing and repurposing, some hoped to preserve parts of the former high school. One such part is the garden around the high school that student members of the Urban Nutrition Initiative, a program run by Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, have planted and maintained.
Algernong Allen, an entrepreneur and Pennsylvania real estate salesperson and developer, advised the UNI members in the audience to “organize yourselves, create a stir” in order to protect their garden after the school closes because its fate has not yet been decided.
The motivation behind the panel and discussion was not to reach a specific conclusion, but rather to include the residents of Powelton Village, the area surrounding UCHS, in the conversation. Panel moderator and Axis Philly senior writer Solomon Jones explained that, ultimately, Axis Philly created Schoolhouse Watch and hosted panels “so that things wouldn’t happen to communities, but instead would happen with communities.”
“There are numerous community organizations in this room right now,” he added. “Organize yourselves together, today. See what happens.”
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