Strawberry Mansion High, Once One of US's Most Dangerous Schools, Receives Hope, Help

Philadelphia high school was one of the most dangerous schools in the U.S.

ByABC News
December 3, 2013, 1:18 PM

Dec. 4, 2013— -- Strawberry Mansion High School, where 94 security cameras line the hallways and metal detectors are posted at every door, was once considered one of the most dangerous schools in the country.

Located in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood with a high crime rate, Strawberry Mansion consistently appeared on Pennsylvania's "Persistently Dangerous Schools" list.

But for the first time in six years, that's no longer the case.

"We're off the 'Persistently Dangerous' list. We're very happy about that," said Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman. "So we know we have a system in place that can curtail the violence. We know that."

In a special ABC News "Hidden America" report on the school that aired in May, Diane Sawyer and ABC News producers followed the daily lives of the school's students and faculty, including its new principal, during the 2012-2013 school year.

School officers said they watched for razor blades in tin foil and knives in backpacks. Some students had to empty their pockets before being cleared to go to class.

It was Cliatt-Wayman's first year as principal -- the fourth principal for the high school in as many years.

When ABC News' special report aired, there had been 49 incidents during the school year, from fires to teacher attacks, reported in or near the school. ABC News cameras captured students brawling in the cafeteria and being bullied, as well as students who shared their dreams of going to college, but couldn't afford to.

But after the special, a tidal wave of generosity from viewers helped breathe new life into Strawberry Mansion. Money donated by viewers helped to pay for school uniforms and to provide 13 scholarships for seniors heading off to college, as well as basic necessities that were missing at Strawberry Mansion, including books, notebooks and calculators.

How To Help Strawberry Mansion High

ABC News went back to Strawberry Mansion for the first few months of the 2013-2014 school year, and caught up with students and faculty -- Principal Cliatt-Wayman is back for a second year.

It is a school that is still close to the edge. Brutal fights break out at times and citywide budget cuts have made an impact. There are fewer teachers this year, and class sizes have doubled. Fewer guards and police patrol the hallways.

"It's very hard, guys opening up these schools with no people. ... We still can't cover the floors," she said. "When they get revved up, they'll realize that there's nobody, and that's what I'm worried about."

ABC News also checked back with a few of the students who were profiled in our May report. Christine, a graduating senior at the time, had been accepted to Philadelphia University but couldn't afford to go. After the special aired, the university waived her tuition.

Malaysia, the freshman who said she was bullied a lot, is now a sophomore at Mansion trying to stay on track. Razzaq, another freshman last year who took great pride in his Junior ROTC uniform, left the school and is now living outside Philadelphia with his father. Although he is no longer her student, Cliatt-Wayman still mentors him.

There are signs of hope and vitality. For the first time in the school's 62-year history, it has a football team, the Strawberry Mansion Knights.