On the scene for the last day of Germantown High School’s life (1914-2013)

Germantown High is one of 23 schools closing due to the Philadelphia School District’s budget cuts this year. A number of underclassmen trickled in and out of the building Friday morning for final goodbyes of their own.

Jenia Jolley stood on the shoulder of East High Street and snapped a second photo of Germantown High School.

The first was taken earlier in the morning with her husband, Terrence Furtick, inside the gym of their soon-to-be-closed alma mater.

It’s where the couple first met.

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“I was in 10th [grade] and he was graduating,” said Jolley Friday, the final day of classes at GHS.

The tender moment was as much about rekindling the past as it was about preserving it for the future.

Standing steps away from Jolley was her young daughter. She and Furtick brought her along for a brief family history lesson they hope will stay with her for years to come.

“It’s sad that they’re closing, but at least she’s old enough to see where we started,” said Jolley before heading off to work.

Germantown High is one of 23 schools and seven high schools closing due to the Philadelphia School District’s budget cuts this year.

A number of GHS underclassmen trickled in and out of the 99-year-old building Friday morning for final goodbyes of their own. 

Tears, hugs and nostalgia 

Nancy Cooley, a petite sophomore donning black, box-framed glasses, emerged from the hulking, four-story structure with a few friends in tow.

With her final report card in hand, she said being in the building for the last time nearly brought her to tears. Giving her favorite teachers hugs – even watching others do the same – was particularly hard.

“On the last day it really hits you, like I’m really not coming back here,” said Cooley.

Freshman Joseph Hayes helped lug a few boxes of history books to the curb before parting ways with the school. Though his time at GHS was cut short, he said he’s walking away from a positive experience.

“I love it here,” said Hayes, who, like many of his classmates, is heading to Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane next year. Many others will head to Roxborough High School.

Dennis Motley walked up to the GHS entrance just before 2 p.m. with his yearbook in one hand and Class of ’71 class ring on a finger on the other.

“Nostalgia,” he said. “I feel like crying.”

Then, he teared up, looking up the front steps.

“I just wanted to come down here and walk through the halls one last time,” said Motley, recalling the time a bird landed on his shoulder on the lawn out front of the school. “This is part of our lives. This is part of my life.”

The G’s last principal

Acting Principal Alexis Greaves reflected on matters both big-picture and personal. 

“In 1915, the first class of students came through this building and in 2013, the last class came through,” said Greaves. “I believe there’s a common thread between them, and all the others in between: Their futures are bright.”

Soon, he would rifle through the stack of framed black-and-white pictures leaning against the wall by the office door, group shots from GHS boxing, baseball and other teams dating back to the 1920s.

“At the end of every school year, you close the building up. But this year, there’s more of a finality,” he said. “Speaking for myself — but I think I’m speaking for others who’ve worked here — it’s been a privilege to serve this community and the young people who’ve gone to GHS. It’s been a great, great privilege.”

Mixed emotions on the closing 

Lucia Busch, whose children and siblings went to GHS, will smile when she passes by the school. She’s upset that the school is closing, but said it’s time to focus on the happiness the building brought to the community.

“No heartaches, no pains, because it’s not our fault,” said Busch. “It’s something that happened. It’s something of somebody else’s cause, but we will still enjoy our community and love each one here.”

But Kimberly Njeri-Mesquito, who chairs GHS’ history department, is still frustrated and angry that this day had to come.

“We were starting to build something here and before we got a chance to really get our momentum going, they snatch it away from us,” said Njeri-Mesquito, who like most teachers, deliberately wore a Germantown green T-Shirt.

Remembering community ‘anchor’

Jennifer Miller was known as Jennifer Spraggs when she graduated with the 101st of 146 classes in Germantown High School history.

Now a school teacher herself, she explained what walking into the building was like on its last day.

“My heart started beating a little faster. I started tearing up,” said Miller, whose mother was vice president of the School and Home organization when she was a Germantown Bear. “There are so many memories inside that building. The teachers, and Mr. Highsmith, the principal, nurtured us.”

Looking up at the facade, she reckoned that the building would likely turn into apartments or condos. Broaching the possibility that a charter school could make use of the sprawling facility, she noted that some charters aren’t the most successful of enterprises.

“This was an anchor of the community. It truly was,” she said of GHS.

Though a district employee, she had harsh words for decisions being made to close these buildings without any idea of what would become of them once they were no longer schools.

“When they’re still hiring people to six-figure jobs down at headquarters, it makes me wonder whether we really are out of money,” she said.

A final goodbye 

Moments after Miller walked away from the building, a young male passenger in a car driving past the GHS front entrance leaned out the window and yelled, “Yo, don’t close my high school.”

But that’s exactly what the teachers and students carrying and wheeling all kinds of items out of the building were begrudgingly doing. (Faculty will be back on Monday.)

Rare were moments when something wasn’t going on atop the G’s front steps. The last buses. The school-police officer going to “feed my squirrels one last time.” Some teachers moving books and such to classrooms at their new schools; others returning from job interviews in suits.

And, just before what would have been a lunch break, a pair of students left the premises. They took their time getting down the stairs outside and walked a few steps along the sidewalk along an East High Street block along which seven “Welcome to Bear Country” banners still hang.

One looked back at the facade briefly.

“Damn,” he said. “Bye Germantown.”

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