WRITTEN BY: LILA GORDON
About thirty minutes away from Temple, in the mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Fairhill, is a building that was once known as Fairhill Elementary School. Today, a “For Sale” sign can be found in front of the vacant building, which was once full of youth and life. Despite the vacancy of the structure, the memories created there live on in the basement of Temple’s own Tyler School of Art.
Artist Pepon Osorio, teacher of Community Arts at Temple, along with teachers, students, parents and neighbors dedicated the basement to the interactive exhibit.
Many of the items found in schools and abandoned in Fairhill after the closing – chairs, tables, art – were salvaged by Osorio and are now on display in Tyler’s basement.
In March of 2013, two months before the end of the school year, the parents of Fairhill students received a letter notifying them that they had about a month to find places in new schools for their six to 12-year-old kids.
The school closed the following month on April 13, 2013.
Olga Ramos, who works at the exhibit and grew up a few blocks from Fairhill, had little cousins who went to Fairhill when the school was closed.
“There were behavior issues, and resentment at going to another school,” Ramos said. “Just irate that the school was being shut down.”
Fairhill was among twelve schools in Philadelphia that were shut down in 2013 due to “budget cuts and low test scores.” Keerthana Kulendran works at the exhibit and is a student at Tyler School of Art. She described a cycle in which schools do not have proper funds, thus they do not have proper supplies. The students do not learn as well, and then the test scores are lower.
“Students were sharing textbooks with two other students, which means they couldn’t really study at home and in school you’re sharing a textbook… it’s difficult to concentrate,” Kulendran said.
Pepon, along with ten young alumni from Fairhill, created an exhibit to commemorate the way the community feels about the school being shut down. Most of the exhibit comes from either the school Fairhill itself, or from art created by the elementary students. The room is also used for community meetings and discussions about the school.
“This room has given them a voice,” Kulendran said. “The kids have learned political language and political power through that, and are now speaking out at School Reform Commission meetings.”
In the exhibit itself, there is a tour guide there to answer questions. The exhibit will be open until May 20 of this year and visiting hours are Thursdays to Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m.