When neighborhoods change, what lessons can schools learn?

Lafayette history teacher Patrick Compton wonders if his school has lessons for South Philly High (Philadelphia Inquirer photo by Ran Tarver)

Every now and then, events at one school have an uncanny resemblance to what has taken place at another. That was the case at Lafayette High School, a once-cavernous neighborhood institution at the tip of Brooklyn that served a largely Italian and Jewish population. Its sports teams at one point were nicknamed “the Italian Army.” Famous graduates ranged from the singer Vic Damone to slugger Sandy Koufax.

South Philadelphia High served a similar population. Then over the years, both neighborhoods changed radically, absorbing new waves of Asian immigrants.  The newcomers did not settle in easily. In both cases, violence resulted. The Hechinger Report takes a look at what happened at both schools in a story in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, and the key question throughout is what can be learned.

“As neighborhoods change, schools have to change, and unless they address the needs of a new population systemically, the problems are just going to be reflected back into the schools and repeat themselves,”  Lafayette history teacher Patrick Compton points out in the story.

But can they? Lafayette is closing forever in June; the school has already been broken up into smaller, themed academies. At South Philadelphia High, however, the questions — and the problems — remain.

Liz Willen