As MLK High’s Class of 2012 graduates, progress seen at once-troubled school

It was a day before they would don caps and gowns and become the Martin Luther King High School graduating Class of 2012.

Inside Temple University’s Liacouras Center, on the floor under banners honoring basketball teams from 1938 to 2001 and beyond, soon-to-be grads heard their names called on Monday.

They walked up on stage, shook hands with first-year Principal William C. Wade. Then, they practiced receiving a diploma and smiling for cameras that would be flashing when they did the same thing in front of a crowd the next night.

Then, after hearing warnings that they were to be punctual, leave their handbags with parents, headphones or other musical devices at home and to be ready to “go forth and conquer,” they rehearsed their recessional march.

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A surreal moment

Even on Graduation Eve, Wade and graduating seniors Navette Patterson-Downey and Daryl Harmon could hardly contain their pride.

“I’ve waited my entire life, well, as long as I can remember, for this day,” said Patterson-Downey, who will start studying early childhood education at Lock Haven University in just a few weeks. “To be a role model for my siblings, to my cousins, it makes me proud.”

Harmon, who will also attend Lock Haven University, where he will study civil engineering, said it means a lot to graduate since he comes from a family that prides itself on education.

He said that under Wade’s leadership, the vibe at MLK High had changed for the better. In fact, neither he nor Patterson-Downey could name the previous principal off the top of their heads.

“Mr. Wade is more involved. You see him walking the halls. You can go to him if you have a problem,” Harmon said. “He keeps it real with you, won’t sugar coat anything, but he’ll help you work through anything.”

“He always has your back,” added Patterson-Downey, who admitted she was a bit nervous the day before such a momentous life event. “He’s there for you every step of the way.”

First in a three-year improvement plan

For his part, Wade acknowledged it was a year of transition for the Promise Academy, but that he’d seen progress in the first year of what normally takes three years to effect change.

The Class of 2012 graduated 157 students on Tuesday night, and those numbers were bolstered because of teachers and administrators committed to helping kids on the brink of failure realize they should strive to succeed, Wade said.

To that end, he said “serious incidents” were down while attendance was up. While 80 percent of ninth graders were off-track when it comes to graduation last year, 85 percent were on track this year.

During rehearsal, he rued the fact that he would have to ask Liacouras Center staff to remove rows of chairs because there weren’t enough graduates to fill all that were set up. He vowed to “fill those chairs” in upcoming years’ ceremonies.

“We don’t allow them to fall by the wayside,” Wade said. “MLK was on life support when we took over, but things are turning around.”

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