School's out; time to flee from rowdy students

As each school day ends, some neighbors brace for the edgy exodus while others are at ease

Posted: June 11, 2010

Residents in Center City and near South Street were frustrated in the past year over the sporadic but disruptive behavior of youth-led flash mobs that rampaged through their neighborhoods and businesses in search of thrills.

But to thousands of Philadelphians who live and work around some of the city’s most troubled schools, almost any day can be lika flash mob. They say that they witness a daily dose of cursing, fighting and blatant disregard for their homes, businesses and any semblance of sanity.

A rare few who are fed up with the misconduct stand up to the youngsters. More likely are the fearful others who go into hiding about 3 p.m. every day to wait for the flood of rowdy students to subside.

As students look forward to the promise of summer vacation, and to no more school, so do nearby residents, who will get a break from the sometimes contentious relationship they have with their neighborhood public schools.

“The neighbors are disgusted,” said a school police dispatcher, who asked not to be identified but who fields dozens of calls a week from neighborhood residents.

“The kids are crazy. They’re out there acting like animals. They tear up shrubs, breaking windshields, coming through the neighborhoods messing."

On an average day, about 80 incidents are reported around the city, said the district’s safety chief,

James Golden.

Of that number, roughly 20 are considered serious. More than half of those incidents result in arrests, he said.

Of course, the majority of students stay out of trouble, and school police Commander Augustine Pescatore said that beefed-up security has led to a decline in student assaults around dismissal.

But the after-school violence at some schools is so bad that the school police force deploys up to 12 cops to patrol a single school’s dismissal, he said.

“A lot of it is due to the comprehensive approach to dismissal,” he said. “We get help from city police and outside organizations like Town Watch and with programs like Safe Corridors.”

Training parents on how to prevent or respond to disruptive behavior has also helped, he said.

But school law-enforcement officials say that the way teens communicate now, mobilizing through social-networking sites, has been a challenge.

“Over the years, the kids became more aware and more connected,” Pescatore said.

To that end, school police check several sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, several times a week, and share pertinent information with city police.

As school was letting out on a few recent afternoons, the Daily News fanned out across the city and visited several schools that were identified by school-police dispatch as hot spots for bad activity.

Here’s what it’s like during that turbulent hour after the dismissal bell tolls:

Germantown High

Jose Colon was assisting a customer at his Germantown Avenue appliance shop when he heard a crash, then a scream.

He spun around and saw the head of a student sticking through the window, blood gushing where huge shards of glass were protruding from his neck .

About a dozen students who stood outside, yanked the boy out of the window and continued to pummel him until cops arrived, he said.

That brutal attack two weeks ago has almost become indicative of dismissal time on the "Ave," where the problem has gotten so bad that police suggested storeowners temporarily close up shop when school lets out, said one shopkeeper who declined to give her name.

"Man, those kids are crazy," said Colon, who keeps a machete under the counter since the incident.

"They just threw him through the window, took him out and kept beating him up."

Other besieged shopkeepers and residents near Germantown and Chelten avenues are fed up.

"It's like hell," said Walgreen's employee Yolanda Ivery, 37, who watched a girl get jumped in the store last year.

In another incident, two months ago, she saw a police officer get jumped and beaten with his own billy-club by a gang of about 50 teens after school.

Inside a nearby deli, Georgia Brown-Thompson, 88, didn't make it home in time to avoid the flood of students one recent afternoon.

"When they get out [of school], I don't like to be out here," she said, looking out at a group of students who were cursing and pushing one another into the street.

"I sit on my porch, watch them and wait."

Radames Lillo, who keeps a "nightstick" under the counter at the men's clothing store where he works, yells at students who get too close to the store's front windows.

His boss also had to shell out $400 to fix a window that broke after a group of students heaved a teen into it.

"At 3, I leave whatever I'm doing to go outside and stand watch," he said. "They're messing with people's livelihood."

- Dafney Tales & Jan Ransom

Roosevelt Middle

Students at the Germantown school don't have much in the way of after-school options. No arts. No clubs. No athletics.

But, students and nearby merchants say, there's plenty of after-school sport to watch when Roosevelt's students get into fights with one another. It happens about once or twice a week, either at Washington Lane and Musgrave Street, or at Washington and Chew Avenue, farther away from the school.

"We'll go down to the corner . . . stand there, wait for someone to come up and start fighting," said one freshman, 14, who declined to give her name. The instigators say, "I want to fight anybody," according to the teen.

The overcrowded bus stop for SEPTA's Route 18 is a problem for area businesses, store owners say. Thirty to 50 kids wait for a bus at Washington and Chew for about 20 to 40 minutes a day. SEPTA drivers pass the stop carrying full buses or driving empty buses, said workers at the Chew Deli near the corner.

"They may not want to deal with them," said one employee, 21, who wouldn't give his name.

Soo J. Han, owner of E-T Plus beauty supply, said he locks his doors while students wait for the bus. They are rough with one another and bump against his store, he said. Two years ago, students broke through his front window.

He said that school police are rarely in the area, so he calls city police when a fight breaks out. But he said that they don't arrive until after the fight ends and stay for only five to 10 minutes.

One recent afternoon, just after the dismissal bell rang, shrieks emerged from a crowd of students waiting for the XH SEPTA bus at Washington and Musgrave. One teen ran over and threw water on another, who almost stepped in front of a passing car on Washington. Appearing angry, the victim stormed at the splasher. They yelled at each other but soon erupted in laughter.

- Regina Medina

Lincoln High & Meehan Middle

Meehan students in blue-collared shirts flooded around Lincoln's entrance as they walked away from their school. The crowd grew and shouts rose from the swarm.

Then police on bikes arrived to halt the coming storm, warning the students to break it up.

"Keep moving!" one officer hollered. "Stay on the sidewalk."

The crowd slowly split into two groups of boys as one silently eyed his competition, wiping sweat from his brow with the blue shirt he was carrying by that point.

It's a common scene outside both schools, which sit next to each other and have factions of raucous students who create mayhem every afternoon. They often get into fights and sometimes jump passers-by, neighbors in the residential area say.

John Tran stopped planting a vegetable garden outside his house because he got sick of students destroying the fruits of his labor every year.

"They threw all the vegetables out in the street," said Tran, 62.

Amy Wilson, 27, said the extra police officers help.

"Before the police started showing up, there were fights almost every day," she said. "The kids just have such a lack of respect, it's disappointing."

Students from both schools said the chaos has lessened but agree that there is still trouble.

"We get in fights," said Ashley Kramer, an eighth-grader.

"It's usually over other girls trying the steal our boyfriends. They act stupid thinking you're not going to say anything, and then they get scared when you do."

At Lincoln, things are slowly improving, which students attribute to more security cameras and stricter enforcement of school rules since the new school building opened last September.

"People aren't getting jumped in the hallways anymore," said sophomore Emily Beltle. "There's less people cutting class too."

"We gotta wear uniforms now," said Kalena Brown. "No cell phones, no iPods, no cameras."

Neighbor Rob Deegan said the new building wasn't enough to calm his nerves after two of his daughters were robbed while walking from the bus stop they use to get home from their private schools.

"If it were up to me, I'd knock both the schools down and build houses," Deegan said.

- Christine Olley & Michelle Skowronek

Frankford High

Just before 3 p.m. every school day, Dave Matthews goes into what he calls "lockdown mode."

Matthews, who owns a used-car lot, brings vehicles parked in the street back onto the lot. He closes and locks the metal gates that surround it. One or more of his employees usually stands guard outside.

The perceived threat? Departing Frankford students.

"If we have customers, they're locked in the office with us," said Matthews, who is poised to relocate his business to Cumberland County, N.J. "It's like a 'running of the bulls' type situation."

Matthews said students scuffle on cars, throw bottles over his fence, call him "ol' head." They'll start fights with anyone, he said; he once saw a kid punch a cop.

A man sitting on his front porch down the street from the school pointed to three nearby corners.

"That's a fighting spot, that's a fighting spot and that's a fighting spot," said the 52-year-old, who declined to give his name. "And if you put my name in the paper, this spot in front of my house will become a fighting spot."

Fridays, he said, were notoriously bad. Summers were worse than winters.

But on two recent days, including a Friday, the scene was remarkably tame.

Students left with the usual noise and activity, but nothing violent or untoward. Several full police vehicles were on hand just in case and students walked amiably with school police, who joked with them and urged them to go home.

Frankford students said theirs wasn't a troubled high school.

"It's not the 'hood, really," said one 17-year-old, who admitted he'd left school early when he saw his class had a substitute teacher in the last period. "It ain't nothing like South Philly High."

- Natalie Pompilio

Northeast High

As the district's largest high school - with a whopping 3,166 students - Northeast has the potential to wreak havoc on the surrounding Rhawnhurst neighborhood.

But students, neighbors, business owners and police say that while some fistfights erupt, the racially diverse school is pretty safe.

Dismissal was pretty orderly on recent afternoons. School police shooed away students who milled around the front of the school, which takes up the block of Cottman Avenue between Glendale and Algon.

A few students play-fought on the sidewalks. Some scurried into the middle of Cottman to get to Ernie's Pizza or Burger King, making drivers stop.

Many students swarmed into the nearby E-Z Gas Mini-Mart at Cottman and Glendale. As he stood by the door, owner Manish Patel, 32, said: "You let so many people in at a time. Otherwise, they'd be driving you nuts and they don't get out."

He said sometimes students fight, but the bigger issue is an attitude problem. "What they should need in the school," he said, "is manner classes Saturday and Sunday on how to behave outside in the world."

Some students said the craziest thing that happened recently was a fight or near-fight about a month ago, with dozens of students running west on Cottman.

"It was a flash-mob type of thing," said Jesse Patton, an 11th-grader. "It was nuts."

Junior James Antipuna added: "It was amazing. Just the thrill. Just the rush!"

Police Capt. Michael McCarrick, however, said he didn't recall the incident so it couldn't have been that big a deal. "For the sheer volume of students, there's nowhere as near as many problems with this school," he said.

- Julie Shaw

Audenried High & Fels High

Turns out not all city schools, even some of those that school police referred the Daily News to, have dismissals that resemble the End of Days.

There was a time, not long ago, when the mere mention of Audenried would have conjured images of rowdy, out-of-control teens charging out of the school at the end of the day.

But since 2008, when the school set up shop in a sprawling new building at 33rd and Tasker streets in Grays Ferry, dimissal time has been . . . quiet. Peaceful, even, according to school cops and nearby residents.

"They just come out and go home," noted Karri Hunter, 34, who was selling water ice from a small stand across the street from the high school. "The police keep them moving."

Indeed, at least three Philadelphia police officers and five school cops stood guard outside Audenried during dismissal.

"It's been pretty good lately," said longtime neighborhood activist Charles Reeves, 68, looking out from his porch on Tasker Street near 31st.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of fighting. Most of the kids just walk home."

It was a similar scenario across town at Fels, another school with a nasty reputation.

The school's been on the state's list of "persistently dangerous schools" the past two years - and students say there is still fighting, but mostly inside the school.

Freshman Egypt Gallaway, 16, was outside the Ami Food Market, at Sanger Street and Summerdale Avenue, about 2:30 one recent afternoon - before school was dismissed at 3:04.

"There was a fight this morning in the hallway," she said.

Another day after school, sophomore Angie Phasavath, 15, said: "It's a good school as long as you're not involved in any drama." She has been in two fights this year, she said, one inside a classroom.

Across from Fels are six mostly quiet, narrow residential streets that run perpendicular to Langdon, where a fence borders the schoolyard.

When school lets out, paved walkways direct students along wide-angled paths away from the neighborhood to outer corners of the sprawling campus, either north to Oxford Avenue, where many students take SEPTA buses home, or south toward Sanger.

As the district was considering plans for the new building, the fencing was designed to lessen dismissal's impact on nearby residents, a district official said.

A large police presence, neighbors said, also helps.

- David Gambacorta & Val Russ

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