KEEPING OPEN A COMMUNITY HIGH SCHOOL
How it started
In 2013, the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) submitted a proposal: to close Alvarez High school and reopen it as a middle school instead in order to deal with a large increase in middle school students. This proposal came as the latest in a long string of school closings in the South and West side, including the closing of Perry Middle School and Bridgham Middle School. This proposal would destabilize the education and community of the several hundred students that attended Alvarez. Faced with this, the students took it upon themselves to create pressure on the PPSD to keep Alvarez open.
Knowing it was up to the PPSD whether or not Alvarez closed, students decided to concentrate their efforts on the School Board and the superintendent. This meant using a quick-response method to mobilize the community of Alvarez to contact key decision makers though writing letters, making phone calls, and holding one-on-one meetings to express their discontent and explain the importance of Alvarez. This cumulated in students and other community members also showing up at School Board meetings to give their testimony to influence the School Board vote against the proposal.
PSU first learned of the proposal to close Alvarez on Monday, October 28th at around 4pm, when the PPSD emailed Alvarez teachers to let them know that their school might be closed. This was only two hours before a School Board meeting, leaving very little time to act. But by 6pm, there were students at the meeting ready to raise their concerns.
That first meeting was only the beginning. After that, students took up a massive and rapid campaign to mobilize the Alvarez community. They put up fliers, emailed, and called community members to a meeting on October 31st. Nearly 50 students, parents, teachers, and youth organization representatives were in attendance. This meeting pushed City Council members to introduce a resolution requesting the School Board to slow down on this decision and look for alternatives. After a week of outreach and meetings, on Thursday, November 7th the City Council unanimously passed this resolution.
Meanwhile, PSU members were meeting with individual School Board members one-on-one to explain why keeping Alvarez open was so important to their education and the sense of community and family that they felt at the school. They were also doing media outreach, researching state reimbursement rates to see how much the district could be reimbursed for fixing up other buildings instead of converting Alvarez, reaching out to the Mayor, and mobilizing for the next School Board meeting.
That next meeting, on November 12th, was the cumulation of all of PSU's actions so far. Students from Young Voices, PSU members, and Alvarez students, as well as community partners like parents and City Council members, testified in front of the entire board in opposition of Alvarez's closing. The meeting was an incredible success: it was so packed the Board had to move into a school auditorium across the street.
On November 25th, it was finally time to vote on the proposal, and thanks to the incredible response from students and the community, the Board decided not to close Alvarez! Instead, PPSD decided to reopen West Broadway Middle School—a school that had closed a few years earlier—to address the increase in middle school students.
In the media
This campaign received coverage in the Providence Journal and other media outlets.