High schools prepare to take on North, Dougherty displaced students

Patrick Boylan and Tom McGowan, both juniors at Northeast Catholic High School, would have ruled the school as seniors next year – McGowan as a National Honor Society member ranked fifth in his class and Boylan as a legacy student, following his father, grandfather, uncles and older brothers by attending the school.

Now, both Boylan and McGowan will find themselves adapting to new schools for senior year, after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced plans to close Northeast Catholic, opened in 1926 on the border of Frankford and Kensington, and Cardinal Dougherty High School, opened in 1956 in Olney, at the end of the academic year due to waning enrollment.

“When I first heard North was closing, I was really mad,” McGowan, who is enrolled at Father Judge High School for next year, said. “I was mad that this announcement came out of nowhere and I was even more upset that North was closing a year before my senior year. I was confused because I didn’t know where I was going to go next year and what was going to happen with my scholarship.”

Three major Northeast Philadelphia Archdiocesan Catholic high schools, Father Judge, its sister St. Hubert’s and Archbishop Ryan High School, became “inviting schools” when the news of North’s and Dougherty’s closures broke in early October.

“When we heard the news, we were saddened [and] when we realized we would be one of the inviting schools, we looked over the curriculum to make sure we could offer a fit,” St. Hubert’s President Sister Mary Smith explained, adding that 12 Cardinal Dougherty students are already registered to attend St. Hubert’s in September. “We needed to make sure that what we had here would coincide with classes offered [at Cardinal Dougherty].”

To make the transition easier for some of the students registered to attend St. Hubert’s in the fall, the school is adding a Latin class to its course offerings.

St. Hubert’s and the other Northeast Philadelphia inviting schools have all opened their doors for any North or Dougherty student interested to spend a day shadowing – following a student for the day to get a feel for the environment – at their schools.

Administrators said they also held several special open houses for students and parents, as well as visited the closing schools during lunch periods to offer more information to the students.

“I think the most important thing we did was we hosted our own open house specifically for the North and Dougherty families, so we tried to make that convenient,” Archbishop Ryan Director of Admissions Pam McPeak explained. “We had as much representation from clubs, teachers, chairs of departments and made sure that we were well represented to show that what they would be able to join and become part of.”

Archbishop Ryan High School's front-lawn marquee boasts news of the junior prom and student productions.
(Archbishop Ryan High School's front-lawn marquee boasts news of the junior prom and student productions.)

McPeak said when students come to shadow at Ryan, especially those from North and Dougherty, she “works like eHarmony” and matches them with someone taking similar classes and involved in the same extra-curricular activities.

“We really spend a lot of time doing that matching and making sure that the students will feel when they leave Ryan that they can actually see themselves in our building,” McPeak said, adding that the school’s recruitment rate of students who shadow is 85 percent. “I want every potential student to see almost somebody of themselves here.”

Christopher Gatton, 17, an Archbishop Ryan junior who will be captain of the school’s soccer team next year, said he had two soccer players from North Catholic shadow him for a day.

Gatton said he thinks players on the team may be nervous about their positions with new athletes transferring to the school, but that no one is openly talking about it.

“I’ll just lead my team back to another championship,” Gatton said of handling any issues that may arise when he is captain. “Hopefully we’ll win this time.”

Father Judge Principal Kathleen Herpich is familiar with the process of schools closing. Her previous school in New Jersey was also forced to close its doors.
(Father Judge Principal Kathleen Herpich is familiar with the process of schools closing. Her previous school in New Jersey was also forced to close its doors.)

Both McPeak and Father Judge Principal Dr. Kathleen Herpich said some students and parents at their schools expressed concern about how positions on sports teams and class rank may be affected by the North Catholic and Dougherty transfers, but both agreed that it will promote a healthy sense of competition in the schools.

As policy in both Father Judge and Ryan, athletes are required to try out for teams again each year, regardless of their previous positions.

“[We are] trying to get kids [from closing schools] to come in and register so they can get places in [Advanced Placement] classes,” said Herpich, who previously served eight years at a high school in New Brunswick, N.J. that also closed. “I would hate to have to shut out students because of numbers.”

Herpich said that class ranks may shift slightly with the new students coming in, but she does not anticipate any drastic changes. So far, 69 North Catholic students and six Cardinal Dougherty students are enrolled to attend Father Judge in the fall.

McGowan, though, said that though his National Honor Society membership will carry over smoothly, he doesn’t expect to hold his high rank. He said he chose to transfer to Judge because it is close to his home and he knows several students there from attending elementary school with them at Mayfair’s St. Matthew School.

Legacy student Boylan, who is enrolled at Ryan for his senior year, said he also chose his new school because it is near his home. He is one of 70 students from the closing schools planning to attend Ryan.

“I never had any desire to go anywhere but North, so I was sort of at a disadvantage when it came to choosing a new school,” he said. “I ruled out many of the schools for various reasons. I narrowed it down to Ryan and [Bishop] McDevitt [High School in Wyncote, Pa.] and chose Ryan because it would be easier to get there.”

Morgan Zalot is a Temple University journalism student working with Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a class devoted to covering under-reported areas of Philadelphia.

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