Bambies in the crosshairs

For St. Hubert stu­dents, word that their school will close forever in five months spurs tears and much un­cer­tainty.


Sopho­more Tiffany Rodrig­uez and 650 or so oth­er St. Hubert High School stu­dents gathered in the aud­it­or­i­um at noon Fri­day.

Mean­while, the fac­ulty got to­geth­er in a large classroom to hear the news that the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia would close their 70-year-old school in June.

The stu­dents tried to stay up­beat as they awaited word, singing the school song. Then the teach­ers walked in­to the aud­it­or­i­um, some with shaky voices, oth­ers with tears in their eyes.

Sis­ter Mary E. Smith, the school pres­id­ent, ap­proached the mi­cro­phone and said, “I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but St. Hubert’s is clos­ing.”

A school coun­selor, who has dealt with is­sues as ser­i­ous as sui­cide, said, “I’ve nev­er seen any­thing as dev­ast­at­ing.”

Rodrig­uez was among those dev­ast­ated.

“This is an all-around great school,” she said. “It’s a good en­vir­on­ment. Every­one knows every­one and is friendly. You have so much fun and you learn. The teach­ers mo­tiv­ate you.”

Rodrig­uez gradu­ated in 2010 from St. Hugh of Cluny Ele­ment­ary School, which closed last year. She was wor­ried about the fate of St. Veron­ica, which her sev­enth-grade broth­er Justin at­tends, but the school will re­main open. She will have to com­plete the fi­nal two years of her high school days else­where.

“I don’t want to go any­where else,” she said. “My op­tions are still open.”

At about 1 p.m., the stu­dents came pour­ing out of the build­ing at Tor­res­dale and Cottman av­en­ues, many in tears and on their cell phones to tell their par­ents the news. Some pro­claimed, “Bam­bies for life.”

Fresh­man Alicia Smith ex­pects to move on to either Arch­bish­op Ry­an or Naz­areth Academy, but wanted to be a gradu­ate of St. Hubert, which opened in 1941.

ldquo;My whole fam­ily gradu­ated from here,” she said. “It’s the best school in Philly. Once a Bambi, al­ways a Bambi.”

Fresh­man Ash­ley Sampson will have to find an­oth­er school for three years, while her sis­ter Am­ber will be spend­ing her seni­or year else­where.

“It’s sad. This is a really good school with really good teach­ers,” said Ash­ley, who ex­pects to at­tend Ry­an.

Susan Pennypack­er is a 1974 St. Hubert gradu­ate and also an alumna of Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion, which also learned it would be clos­ing in June. Pennypack­er sent her daugh­ter Tina to St. Hubert and held her Miss Susan’s School of Dance re­cit­als at the school. 

ldquo;As soon as I heard, I had to come up here,” she said as she stood out­side the school. “It’s your youth, your up­bring­ing at Cottman and Tor­res­dale. It’s just such a staple. I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

St. Hubert sup­port­ers ar­gued that the girls school has more stu­dents than sev­er­al schools that are re­main­ing open.

St. Hubert and four oth­er arch­dioces­an high schools — West Cath­ol­ic, Con­well Egan, Monsignor Bon­ner and Arch­bish­op Pren­der­gast — are be­ing closed by the arch­diocese, along with 45 ele­ment­ary schools.

The Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia blue-rib­bon com­mis­sion noted that en­roll­ment in its five-county school sys­tem is half of what it was 12 years ago and was pro­jec­ted to fall to 500 by 2014-15, based on the lower num­ber of stu­dents in feed­er ele­ment­ary schools. The 55-per­cent dip in en­roll­ment in the last 15 years is the largest of any arch­dioces­an high school.

Ca­pa­city of the build­ing is less than 40 per­cent, and the school’s total de­fi­cit from 2006-07 to 2010-11 was $624,480.

Com­mis­sion mem­ber Ed Han­way said the pan­el looked at a num­ber of factors.

ldquo;What’s the seni­or class and what’s the fresh­man class? We didn’t just look at today’s en­roll­ment. What’s the school go­ing to look like three, four years from now? We know those pro­jec­tions are not fa­vor­able at all,” he said.

The spir­its were a little bet­ter at the bas­ket­ball game that night at the Bam­bie Dome against Neu­mann-Gor­etti.

Ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Mike Pren­der­gast saw his alma ma­ter, Car­din­al Dougherty, close in 2010. He de­scribed St. Hubert as a neigh­bor­hood beacon for 70 years.

ldquo;It’s just shock­ing,” he said.

Theo­logy teach­er Ed Cox said the an­nounce­ment was an emo­tion­al one, with staff and stu­dents hug­ging one an­oth­er.

Fac­ulty mem­bers can main­tain jobs in the arch­dioces­an sys­tem if they have the seni­or­ity.

At the ele­ment­ary school level, teach­ers at schools that were partnered will have to re­apply. Cox’s daugh­ter Tri­cia teaches at Vis­it­a­tion BVM, which will be the site for a new school that will in­clude stu­dents from St. Malachy.

Cox can re­tire, but is con­cerned for his young­er col­leagues.

“I feel bad for some of the teach­ers who can’t do that,” he said.

Sis­ter Mary Smith, who has been pres­id­ent for three years and prin­cip­al for two years be­fore that, said the school has been hurt by re­cent clos­ings of former feed­er schools St. Bern­ard, St. Leo and St. Bartho­lomew. She de­scribed the an­nounce­ment as her “most pain­ful task” and likened the clos­ing to a death. She and prin­cip­al Re­gina Craig were no­ti­fied of the clos­ing last Thursday. She liked the way the school com­munity re­acted with a show of love for St. Hubert.

ldquo;The fac­ulty and the stu­dents made me proud today,” she said.

The fi­nal gradu­ation will take place on June 5 at Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity, and it’s guar­an­teed to be an emo­tion­al one. As for the un­der­class­men, they’ll soon be pick­ing new schools.

ldquo;We be­lieve our girls will take what they learn here and en­rich their new schools with their spir­it,” Sis­ter Mary said.

Aman­da Boyle will be part of the fi­nal gradu­at­ing class. She’s en­joyed her four years at the school.

ldquo;Every­one here is nice, help­ful and very friendly,” she said. “It’s been a great four years, and it’s sad that not every­one will ex­per­i­ence that. I feel this needs to be the best year and we end on a good note.”

Seni­or Gina Mont­gomery agreed that the St. Hubert com­munity must go all out for the next five-plus months to send the school out in style. Still, that won’t erase the pain.

ldquo;It’s still shock­ing. We were try­ing to think that the ru­mors wer­en’t true,” she said. “This ru­ins May­fair. The school was hold­ing us all to­geth­er.”

Sopho­more Eliza­beth Jones lives near Ry­an, but she de­cided to at­tend St. Hubert. She’s the only mem­ber of her St. Martha gradu­at­ing class to choose St. Hubert. She’s a standout soc­cer and bas­ket­ball play­er and won­ders how ath­letes will fare at a new school.

ldquo;I’m up­set. It’s our home. It’s all about be­ing a girl here,” she said.

Lisa Jones, Eliza­beth’s mom, is a St. Hubert gradu­ate and guesses that many of the girls’ hearts will re­main at Tor­res­dale and Cottman, not on Academy Road (Ry­an) or 10th and Ly­coming (Little Flower).

ldquo;It’s a home away from home for them,” she said.

Neu­mann-Gor­etti crushed St. Hubert, 61-39, but that didn’t stop the stu­dents from storm­ing the court at the fi­nal buzzer like they had won the state cham­pi­on­ship. They loudly sang the school song:

With proud and eager loy­alty, we fling our ban­ner to the world and catch the rays of wis­dom stream­ing down as its glory is un­furled.

We poise our spear, we aim it true, with strength that’s born of right. Let base­ness and op­pres­sion feel the pier­cing of its might.

For St. Hubert’s brown and gold, for our faith that’s firm and bold, with joy we pledge our strength and zeal to up­hold our treas­ured seal.

Armed with know­ledge and with truth and the fire and cour­age of youth, we dare to do, to live for you, our alma ma­ter true, our alma ma­ter true. ••


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