First, there was a new name to remove any connection to a shameful past. Now Eastside High School in Camden, formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High, is getting a facelift to renovate the nearly century-old structure.
Standing outside the Federal Street building in East Camden on Friday, Superintendent Katrina T. McCombs and city officials unveiled what they billed as a $49 million “equity investment” in Eastside. It is believed to be the largest lump sum federal investment ever made in the economically disadvantaged school district.
“You are worth more than that,” McCombs told students who joined in the enthusiastic applause at the announcement. “We’re going to put every penny of this to good use.”
A gigantic tiger statue, Camden’s latest public artwork, was also officially unveiled in a park opposite the school on Friday. Eastside’s mascot is a tiger, and officials hope it will help instill school pride in ninth through 12th graders.
Camden Schools earmarked funds for the renovations from Elementary-Secondary School Aid (ESSER) money allocated under the U.S. bailout to help schools nationwide recover from COVID-19 when the learning was disrupted and schools closed.
“All we want as parents is for our children to have a chance at life, to have opportunities to succeed,” U.S. Representative Donald Norcross (D., NJ) said in a statement. “This is our future.”
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Opened in 1930 as a college, Eastside is one of Camden’s oldest public school buildings, and many said it had long been neglected. In a state-funded project, the district last year replaced its other comprehensive high school, Camden High, with a sleek, $131 million campus that also houses three magnet high schools.
In January, the school board decided to change the name of the school due to the segregationist views and ideas of the former US President and Governor of NJ. McCombs had called for the change two years earlier, citing Wilson’s past and the protest over the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“You can change a name, but if you don’t change what’s going on inside, nothing matters,” McCombs said.
Following the announcement, the entourage visited the school, visiting the classrooms to see firsthand the necessary improvements. In the science room, they gasped when the director pointed out a rusty lab table that was around 90 years old. In the cosmetology room, the teacher explained that she needed more stations and better lighting to avoid turning off the ceiling lights every time she showed the students. a white screen.
McCombs said renovations to the 29,300-square-foot school — which will include replacing the science labs, art rooms, automotive and cosmetology rooms, gym, auditorium, lighting and HVAC system – will be completed over three years.
Honors student Jaheen Green, 16, a junior, said the project was long overdue. A budding basketball player and businessman, Green said it would be important for students to get new gym flooring, lockers, a library and computer systems.
“The building is really old,” Green said. “As you walk down the halls, you can feel how outdated it is.”
Green said he believes the makeover will help change the image of the school system in Camden, a state-supported district that has been plagued with failing test scores and high dropout rates for years. . Thousands of students left traditional public schools for the charter and Renaissance schools that opened up in the city.
“When most people look at us, they don’t see greatness,” Green said. “I’m here to say that greatness is within all of us.”
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Also on Friday, McCombs and Mayor Vic Carstarphen cut the ribbon from a 26-foot-long metal tiger sculpture erected in Dudley Grange Park across from Eastside. It was created by Lisa Adler and her husband, Don Kennelby DKLA Design in Sante Fe, New Mexico
Adler said it took the team about three months to make the tiger using 60 orange, black, white, brown and tan car hoods salvaged from junkyards, with its head and legs made from them. new metal. The 8,000-pound statue was transported almost 2,000 miles to Camden in a semi-truck and assembled in the park, she said.
“We probably used every hood in our 100 mile radius,” she said. The artists retained the original paintwork of the recycled hoods and the automaker’s badge, which can be seen on the 12-foot-tall statue. The couple also created the 32ft long panther which sits opposite Camden High in Farnham Park.
“People love animals. It’s inspiring,” Adler said.
Carstarphen said he thought the statue would be a destination spot in the 9 square kilometer city, especially for selfies. But he warned: “Don’t climb on the tiger!”