The Most Dangerous High School In the U.S. Receives Hope

Strawberry Mansion High School, a school in Philadelphia, was once named one of the most dangerous high schools in America by NeighborhoodScout. This school, with a total population of around 435 students, is located in a poor neighborhood with a high crime rate. Over 40% of the residents live in poverty, and the neighborhood has the highest frequency of homicide, rape, and assault in the city. Students file through metal detectors before entering the building every morning, and the officers and security guards watch for razor blades in tin foil and knives in backpacks. Before some students even enter classrooms, they are required to empty their pockets to ensure that they are not hiding any weapons. 94 security cameras line the hallways all over the school to monitor the students.

The school has been on Pennsylvania’s “Persistently Dangerous High Schools” list from 2008 to 2013. “This is a dangerous school,” said Julissa Agosto, a freshman at the school, “a lot of the fights pop off over nothing, so you got to be safe.” During the 2012-2013 school year, there had been at least 49 incidents involving fires, teacher attacks, and bullying. Ryan Zhuo, BSGE ’17, expressed gratitude when he commented, “I’m glad BSGE is the complete opposite of Strawberry Mansion High School.” In 2013, Strawberry Mansion was on the brink of closure as its students and teachers struggled to keep it open. The current principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, is the fourth the high school has had in four years. Before coming to Strawberry Mansion, she was an assistant superintendent of high schools for the Philadelphia public school system. Since she started in the fall of 2012, the number of incidents has been cut in half. “I could not find a principal who was suitable to handle this school,” Cliatt-Wayman said. “Therefore, I said to myself, because I love these students dearly and I knew the community, I would just volunteer to be the principal.” In her effort to prevent as much violence as possible in Strawberry Mansion, Cliatt-Wayman decided to ban boots in the school, which can be used for violent stomping, and hoodies, so that students won’t be able to hide from security cameras.

For students at BSGE, such violence and force that Strawberry Mansion students see everyday has never been experienced or even heard of. “I think it’s crazy that this has been an issue at the school for so many years,” said Rinni Sutanto, ’17. “Though the school has taken many precautions in an effort to lower the chances of violent attacks, I feel that it hasn’t focused on talking to the kids and counseling them to try to help with their violent natures.” “I’m just really glad that the school has improved. In some cases, like with banning hoodies, I felt that the regulations were going overboard, but I guess it was necessary,” said Nikko Nakamura, ’17.

Diane Sawyer and ABC News producers followed the daily lives of the school’s students and faculty during the 2012-2013 school year. Their cameras captured students brawling in the cafeteria and being bullied, as well as students who shared their dreams of going to college, but couldn’t afford to. After the school gained publicity through ABC News, a tidal wave of generosity from viewers helped breathe new life into Strawberry Mansion. Money donated by viewers helped to pay for school uniforms and to provide 13 scholarships for seniors heading off to college, as well as basic necessities that were missing at Strawberry Mansion, including books, notebooks and calculators.

Although in the recent years Strawberry Mansion has faced understaffing, such as fewer teachers and security guards, and increasing class sizes, fewer incidences involving crime and violence have appeared in its corridors with the help of Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman and several generous donors.

At the end of the school day, Cliatt-Wayman delivered a heart-warming announcement over the school intercom. “I want you to be careful going home today, young people,” she told the students. “You all have to remember that education is the only way. It is your only ticket, and remember if nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do. I look forward to seeing you in school, on time, on Monday. Have a great day when the bell sounds.”

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