‘Nightline’ Finds Hope in Return Visit to Dangerous Philadelphia High School

By Mark Walsh — December 06, 2013 2 min read
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With some exceptions, coverage of education issues is rare on network TV news shows anymore. And two extended visits to the same school is even more unusual.

But this week, ABC News’ “Nightline” returned to a Philadelphia high school it featured last spring. The school is Strawberry Mansion High School, one of the most dangerous in that city’s public school system.

In May, Diane Sawyer and a “Nightline” crew were present at the school as a fight erupted, with one female student taking the initiative to shield the anchor from harm. Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who left an assistant superintendent’s position in the district because no one else wanted to be the school’s principal, bemoaned the lack of books and noted that the school had 94 security camera, “and we need more.”

Still, Cliatt-Wayman maintains a message of hope for the school, telling students over the intercom, “If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember that I do.”

“Nightline” returned to the school this week with a report that includes a review of some of the violent footage from last spring as well as fresh material from this fall. [The embedded video above is only the first half of the report. The full report is available on “Nightline”'s Web site for the next month or so.]

The school was apparently slated for closure at the end of last school year but instea became a turnaround school this fall. However, layoffs before the start of this school year included 12 of the school’s former 17 security attendants, the principal says. There are still some fights, including one in which a girl hits another girl over the head with a large electric fan. However, Sawyer seems to suggest that despite the staff cuts, the violence has waned.

Meanwhile, the school has its first-ever football team, which gets off to a surprisingly successful start.

And “Nightline” describes how the spring report prompted a viewer response, including an offer of free tuition at Philadelphia University for one student who didn’t even have the money for application fees. Meanwhile, the hip-hop artist Drake is inspired to visit the school this fall and make a surprise announcement.

Cliatt-Waymon moves some audience members at a women’s forum to tears as she describes her efforts to improve the school.

“I may not be able to get them into Harvard,” the principal says of her students. “But I can give them some hope. And God, don’t underestimate the power of hope. Because when children have hope, they can succeed.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.