Wilkinsburg and Westinghouse sixth, seventh and eighth graders got an early taste of the schools' impending merger at a field day in North Park on Tuesday.
Westinghouse Academy middle schoolers go on a field day to North Park every year. This year, the Homewood-based 6-12 invited Wilkinsburg students to come along. Long plagued by a shrinking student body and debt, Wilkinsburg's secondary school will shutter this fall, expelling its student body to Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Teachers and administrators said Tuesday they're trying to make that a smooth transition. PPS transition counselor Latoya Hamm said students, especially middle schoolers, are nervous about leaving Wilkinsburg.
“Coming to a new school and making new friends and different social groups and meeting new teachers,” she said.
Students at both schools feel fiercely loyal to their respective homes, she said.
Shakara Fields, a seventh grader at Wilkinsburg, said she knows a few Wilkinsburg students but isn’t interested in meeting more.
“We’ve been through everything together,” she said, pointing to a group of girls. “We’re staying together.”
Hamm said that social transition will be up to each student to figure out, but the educators are helping that process. During the joint field day, students had to work with students from the other school to complete tasks like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the "arms" of another student, who they then had to also feed. Activities included egg races, arm link exercises, card games, trust falls and more.
Amari Turner-Ford, a Westinghouse eighth grader, said students are concerned there will be more fights at school because of existing conflicts between the two communities. They expect difficulties, but she said she hopes there won’t be a lasting divide.
“Just because we all seem like we have a bad (reputation) doesn’t mean we’re not going to help each other," she said. "We can all become friends."
Westinghouse eighth grader Diaushanay Williams said she’s excited to make friends and participate in growing student groups like the marching band and athletic teams. Not all her friends agree, she said.
“I’m trying to help them know that it’s a good thing, because they think that when Wilkinsburg comes over there’s going to be a whole bunch of fights," Williams said. "There might be some, but we can stop it if we make groups to help.”