After the move from the M. Hall Stanton school to Tanner G. Duckrey school, noontime aide Theresa Addison helped her students make their new school their own.
“There’s no place like home, but this is our new home,” Addison reminded them.
Hundreds of students from Stanton, a K-8 school near 16th and Cumberland streets, filtered into the cement halls of Duckrey last September after their school was set to be closed.
Addison said that initially, the Stanton students’ behavior was somewhat difficult because they believed they could be sent back to their previous school.
“They thought in a sense it was temporary,” Addison said. “They didn’t realize how final it was.”
After the closing, her future fell into uncertainty.
“At that point I didn’t have a job,” Addison said. “It was up in the air, we had got laid off and everything, then we had the option to pick in August.”
She chose to follow her students to Duckrey, to serve as a constant for them during the transition. As someone who was going through the same process herself, Addison said she was able to understand what they were experiencing and provide guidance.
After students from other neighborhood schools also joined the student body, Duckrey’s enrollment increased to 590 students. A little more than a year ago, the K-8 school on Diamond Street served 281 students.
The influx occurred after Philadelphia officials voted to close 23 public schools in March 2013 in an effort to ebb its budget deficit. Students from the closed schools finished out the year and started at new schools this year.
Now, a year after the merge, students and staff are adjusting to the change.
“Last year was our first transition year, it was a little hard,” said Veronica Cronin, dean of students at Duckrey and former teacher at Stanton. “This year has started off much better because we looked at things that maybe we should have done last year; we have a new principal, we do have new staff members, so things are starting out on a very positive step.”
Originally, Stanton was to remain open and Duckrey was scheduled to close. Addison said that was difficult for some students.
“It was a battle, like, ‘It should have been here instead of there,’” Addison said.
Now, Addison and Cronin said attitudes have improved and the divide between the students from different schools has faded.
“They used to every now and then [ask], ‘Do you want to go back?’” Addison said. “They don’t ask that anymore. They know we’re here. Questions have ended. They’re adapting.”
“I think last year some people were just resistant to the change,” Cronin said. “But this year we’re all one family, we’re all Duckrey, we all go to the same school, we all support each other.”
Overall, Cronin and Addison said they believed the change was for the better.
“I think [the merging of the schools] was a good thing and I think now, the second year, we’re actually starting to see all the good that came out of the change,” Cronin said.
As for resources and staff, Cronin said as with all the schools in the district, they could use more.
“We only have a nurse two days a week which is horrible,” Cronin said.
With many of the lower-grade-level classrooms at almost maximum capacity with around 33 students, Cronin said she would like to see additional classroom assistance for students who need more individualized teaching.
“That’s everybody in the district, that’s straight across the board,” Cronin said, referring to the district’s budget problems.
The financial issues did not cease for the School District of Philadelphia after the school closings. On Sept. 24, a $2 cigarette tax was passed to generate revenue for the school district and avoid further staff layoffs.
Takia Mainor, a parent and employee at Brightside Academy, said she feared the quality of education might suffer with the increases in enrollment. She also worried about the safety of students as they walked to schools which were farther away.
“I feel bad for the students having to walk so far with the streets not being so good,” Mainor said.
Mainor said her concern arose from the safety issues within the area and the possibility of overcrowding in the school.
Marvadien Buckner, a parent who has two children attending Duckrey, said although there are many students at the school, she believes her children are receiving a good education there.
“They amaze me,” Buckner said of her children.
Mariam Dembele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @MariamDembele