When I got to work the day of the announcement, I knew my coworker and I would have the conversation. Or we’d want to. We’d want to complain about it and say all the things that we should have said to someone higher up, someone in charge of this decision. One of her daughters was an alumna, and the other was still a student at Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities, my alma mater. I’d known before the official announcement that Broad Ripple would close in June along with two other public high schools. But knowing beforehand didn’t change how I felt once it was announced publicly.
I graduated as salutatorian from Broad Ripple in 2013. The same high school my mother and father graduated from. The same school where I found the beginnings of my confidence and passions. But the summer after I graduated from my undergraduate university— summer 2017—my mom told me Broad Ripple was closing.
I don’t remember exactly what she said when she found out she’d have to work at a different school, after working at one of the closing schools and enjoying her time there. I don’t remember if she was mad or upset. I don’t remember if she texted me when she found out, or if she just came in the house going off about it. But I remember I sat on the couch while my grandmother asked all the questions. I only asked, “Why?” My mom told us what she knew, didn’t answer what she didn’t. My grandma kept on with her “mmh mmh mmh,” shaking her head and saying what a shame it was.
When I heard it announced officially, I was in denial. I wanted to believe they’d vote against it, that the power of proud Broad Ripple alumni would make them change their mind.
That July, my grandmother told me former students would attend the public comment session at Broad Ripple to talk about what made it special. She suggested I go. I decided not to. When I came home from work the day of the public comment session, my grandmother watched the recap on the news. I saw some of my friends fight for the school, reminisce and show the administrators how far they’d gotten because of Broad Ripple. She said, “You should have gone.” But I knew how those things worked. Administrators pretended to listen like they hadn’t already made up their minds. I wasn’t going to waste my time.
IPS district finally decided with a vote in September 2017 to close all three schools. It didn’t become real for me until I moved to New York for graduate school. I was added to a Facebook group that kept alumni updated on events hosted during Broad Ripple’s final year. Events that I couldn’t afford to make it to.
The worst thing about losing a community — both a people and a place — is not being able to touch it before it’s gone, to go back and plant your feet there one last time. Now, I’m not saying everyone at Broad Ripple liked each other, but we all had a love for each other deeply rooted in the fact that no one could relate to us like us. We attended a magnet school that focused on arts and humanities so we were writers, singers, dancers, painters and musicians. The majority of us were students of color or low-income — and most of the time, both. As great as it was and as great as the neighborhood was, Broad Ripple was still a public school. Our books were so old the spines were gone sometimes; most of us qualified for free-and-reduced lunch, and some of our teachers couldn’t stand how loud and brown we were.
We had spirit despite the way we were policed in hallways by white teachers, despite our favorite instructors leaving for better-paying opportunities. We loved a place that didn’t love us back sometimes, before we knew that being Black in America would always feel that way. We repped the school like true fans at every game — sung our school song at the top of our lungs, yelled at opposing teams from across the bleachers and wore orange and black ribbons in our hair as if they were our favorite colors.
I look at the Facebook group every time I get online and scroll through the photos of the events I’ve missed: our last rivalry football and basketball games, the choir’s last performance and plenty more.
In December, my former dance team captain messaged on Instagram to tell me we’d have a reunion on Broad Ripple’s last “Senior Night” in February. The old members would meet the new, battle, collab on a routine and have a good time before Ripple closed its doors. Once again, being in New York made me miss out. No one tells you that one day, most of the public high schools in your town will be gone because they lack funding, enrollment or both. You think you’ll always have a place to return.
My hometown isn’t the only place closing schools. At the end of February, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close four schools, three of which are under-enrolled and under-resourced. Students and supporters protested, as they always do, but the decision stood. The New York City Board of Education also voted to shut down 10 Bronx and Manhattan schools, most of which are under-enrolled or have low graduation rates/state test scores. Once again, students and parents protested, which only worked for one school, leaving the rest of them to be closed.
The goal of closing low-performing schools is usually to give students better options. But a 2009 study on Chicago students found most displaced students still ended up in low-performing schools. “Only 6 percent of students transferred to schools that had test scores in the top quartile of the district.” These students didn’t gain anything from being put out of an academic home.
And neither did IPS’ students. Recent events at Tech High School, one of the high schools that didn’t shut down, proved everyone right. We knew shutting down three schools and pushing students to the last ones standing would cost, we just didn’t know how. The brawls on campus showed us that either way, IPS will have to dish out more resources to appropriately handle such a large number of students. The videos showed staff struggling to gain control, which they shouldn’t have to do, and students complaining about having too many enrolled at Tech.
Broad Ripple’s final event was an open house on May 10. Alumni returned to purchase spirit wear, take tours of the building and enjoy a documentary and choir performance. I watched my best friend’s Snapchat story of the open house from my bed in New York, her phone recording the red lockers and hallways of Broad Ripple, her saying it’ll be the last time she — or anyone else — walks those halls.