Seeking Peace: Julia de Burgos Elementary School

In Fairhill at 401 West Lehigh Avenue is Julia de Burgos Elementary School covering grades K-8. Named for a Puerto Rican poet, the faculty is working hard to give the students a worthwhile educational experience. While the school may not have the best test scores or be in the safest area, it is resilient.

The poet, Julia Constancia Burgos Garcia, was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico in 1914. In addition to being a poet, she was an educator and traveler. She also stayed busy by serving the Daughters of Freedom as Secretary General. The group, Daughters of Freedom, was the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which advocated for Puerto Rican independence. Clearly Julia de Burgos valued education and used it hers by writing, teaching, and getting involved with the community. As one of thirteen children, she was lucky enough to get the opportunity to continue her education. She took advantage of that privilege and graduated from primary school at age 19. The Philadelphia School District saw this passion for learning and literature, and decided to name the elementary school after her.

Even though this school is public, it works a bit differently from the typical public schools. Students have to apply to attend the school, so that the enrollment rate is controlled. This policy ensures that classroom sizes do not get overwhelming for the teachers and students can get the one-on-one time that they need. As of 2016, the enrollment rate is 820 with around 50 teachers. The students also wear uniforms, which normally does not occur in a public school atmosphere. These reasons make Julia de Burgos Elementary School a unique educational experience.

The school’s test scores may be lower than other Philadelphia public schools, but faculty is working to change that through a partnership with Duke and Villanova University as well as Congreso de Latinos Unidos. A local non-profit, Historic Fairhill, has volunteers that read to students and help with homework after school. Also, the computer lab is fully equipped, and there are smart boards in all the classrooms to give students the tools needed to succeed. The teachers and the community want to give students the resources and help necessary to achieve their dreams.

In school year 2016-17, both the principal, Maritza Hernandez, and assistant principal, Julio Nunez, are from Fairhill and are working hard to make the school as successful as possible. While the rest of the faculty is hard working as well, at least one teacher a day calls out, whether from illness or just being burned out. The school has a hard time finding substitutes for these teachers daily, because of the location of the school. Many substitutes do not want to work in an area where their safety is in question.

Over the years, the school has had many lock downs due to nearby gun violence. The teachers and students alike were fed up with the constant fear and interruption from learning, so in 2015 they organized a peace march. More than a thousand people participated, including business owners in the community. The march was successful and thankfully there were no more lock downs the rest of the school year.

Hopefully, with the successful peace march and students, teachers, and community members working to get rid of the violence, in the near future, Fairhill will not be known as unsafe neighborhood and the lack of teachers will no longer be an issue.




401 West Lehigh Avenue

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