Students forced out by asbestos start in new temporary classrooms

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- More than a month after the students in two Philadelphia Public Schools had their first day of school, some of those same students are having another first day.

On Monday, students at Ben Franklin High School will begin their first day in classrooms at a new temporary location. They will be beginning classes at the former site of Khepera Charter School at 926 W. Sedgley Avenue in North Philadelphia.

The site is three miles from the students' regular campus at 550 North Broad Street in the Spring Garden section of Philadelphia.
English teacher Aiesha Smith worked on a poster in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, she took extra care to make sure it looked good. That's because she knew the poster would be the first thing that students from Ben Franklin High School would see when they walk into their new temporary location.

"Even though it is temporary, we have to make it feel like home because there's no way they will want to learn after going through the ordeal if they don't feel valued," she said.
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Students forced out by asbestos start in new temporary classrooms: TaRhonda Thomas reports on Action News Mornings, October 14, 2019

Teachers and staff members were waiting for students with high-fives and hugs as they got off buses shuttling them from BFHS to the temporary site.

"It's closer to where we live so we can walk now," said James Hodrick whose son goes to Ben Franklin.

The commute to the new school wasn't easy for everyone though.

"Transportation is kinda hard," said freshman Desmond Dominiguez as he walked from bus stop holding his shoulder pads and helmet for tonight's football game. "It was kinda hard waiting for the bus...but you gotta do what you've gotta do."

Students were forced from that building on October 1 after construction crews disrupted asbestos in the building.

That building is also home to Science Leadership Academy. Between the two schools, 1,000 students have been impacted.

On Thursday, the school district announced that it had selected temporary locations to house students from both schools. They've missed 11 instructional days in the classroom.

Originally, district officials selected other sites as possibilities for temporary locations. But students, parents and teachers loudly objected in the meetings held for feedback. Those parents, students, teachers, staff and district officials collaborated to form a task force that agreed on the temporary locations.

Terry Johnson is one of the parents who voted for a new site.

"I like it here," she said. "It's pretty good."

While students from Ben Franklin attend classes on W. Sedgley Avenue, students at SLA will be attending classes at two different buildings. One of them is the headquarters for the School District is Philadelphia at 440 N. Broad St. The other location for SLA students is Rodeph Shalom Synagogue at 615 North Broad St. Students began drop in rotations at district headquarters last week. The transition to Rodeph Shalom also began last week. The goal is to have students and staff from SLA fully relocated by Monday, October 21.

"Learning hasn't stopped," said School District of Philadelphia Spokesperson Megal Lello. "...We wanted to work as quickly as possible to make this right."

Even though he figures it'll take him a while to get used to the new building, freshman Dominic Viera is grateful to be back in the classroom.

"At least I'm getting ready to learn again," he said. "So that's good."

Some Ben Franklin students say they're just happy to be back to learning.

"I need my education," said senior Brianna Miner.

The students will spend a few months and their temporary locations as school district officials say asbestos removal and school construction likely won't be complete until after winter break.
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