Teachers, students and neighbors mourn the loss of Germantown’s Fulton Elementary School

Last week’s closing of Robert Fulton Elementary School left students, faculty and staff members wondering what the future may hold.

Fulton Elementary’s shuttering was overshadowed by the closing of its neighbor Germantown High, which provided the heat for the little school across East Haines Street.

In the months leading up to last week, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey argued the case that GHS could remain open with Fulton and nearby Roosevelt Middle School feeding into a K-12 facility.

In the end, the School Reform Commission expanded Roosevelt into a K-8, folding Fulton into its roster.

“Some of us are still upset with the SRC in regards to the way that they did this,” said Kinsey. “I don’t think they gave any great thought of the impact it was going to have in the community, that’s doing away with so much education in central Germantown.”

Teachers worried for former students

Christine Palermo, a teacher in the Head Start program, had been at Fulton for two years. She worked with children living in poverty between the ages of 3 and 5.

“So many Head Start programs have closed. The children who really need it aren’t going to have it available because it’s not accessible to them,” she said of the two Head Start programs shuttered at Fulton.

“There have been no transitional activities for our children and I think that’s a disgrace to our school district,” she continued. “Nobody bothered to worry about the children and that’s who it’s really going to affect, the kids.”

Ericka Johnson started as a Fulton third-grade teacher in January.

She said her students were long upset about the school closing, often mentioning how far they will have to travel to get to school next year, a distance that left some parents upset as well.

“It’s affecting everybody,” said Johnson, who was among the teachers laid off but hopes the district will rehire some in August and November. “If not, then I’m going to get unemployment.”

She said her students kept asking her where she is going to teach next year, but she just keeps saying she didn’t know yet.

“They don’t know I got laid off,” said Johnson. “A lot of good teachers are getting laid off. That doesn’t produce good students, a good district, good classrooms, anything like that. It just makes teachers who are older safe and it doesn’t matter what happens, they are just always safe.”

Michelle Schwenk, who was Fulton’s second grade teacher for a year, recently secured a job at Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School.

Schwenk thought the news of layoffs was “really unfortunate because I know some of these teachers have been here for a really long time.”

Neighbors rue the loss of schools

Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster III, senior pastor at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church which is sandwiched between GHS and Fultion, said the closings are “a great travesty for the entire community.”

“[The kids] have really been despondent and not knowing what the future is going to hold for them,” he said, “so they really kind of have gone into a cocoon because they really feel let down and just don’t know what to do next.”

Janes Church adopted Fulton Elementary School in the early 1970s and provided a tutoring and mentorship programs for students.

Now, they’re hoping to connect with Martin Luther King High School, where some GHS students will attend in September, and Rosemont Elementary School.

“The community has just shrunk drastically, so we’re praying on what to do next,” Foster said. “We have to be in the community. We need to be in the community to do ministry.”

Sarah E. Maceachern and Ryan A. Shellenberger are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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