Going back to visit their old high school is something many students do. The objective is to see their favorite teachers, administrators and friends to see what changes been implemented since their departure.
Unfortunately, the new graduates of Jamaica High School will not be able to do this.
On Thursday, June 26, at Antun’s catering hall in Queens Village, students of Jamaica High School started to appear one by one dressed in red and blue graduation gowns. The expressions on their faces as well as the teachers’ showed excitement as well as sadness. The graduating Class of 2014 of Jamaica High School will be the final one.
The ambience of the event was bittersweet.
Jamaica High School is one of many of the city schools that are being phased out. The end result will be the co-location of numerous schools that will be housed in the Jamaica High School building. This came after a long and hard battle to keep the school open by officials including then-City Councilman Leroy Comrie, now in the Borough President’s Office, and school administrators. Some teachers noted that it was very difficult to watch their classroom sizes get smaller and smaller; it is even harder to believe that this will be the last graduation class.
“It’s very bittersweet; for anyone that’s ever been at Jamaica, it’s hurtful,” said Susan Sutera, a physical education teacher.
Sutera was one of the teachers who were put on Absent Teacher Reserve during the phasing out process of Jamaica High School.
Some ATR teachers are ones who are assigned to a different school while the school they are assigned to is phasing out.
Besides being a physical education teacher, Sutera coached the girls tennis, volleyball and basketball teams. She recalls her favorite memory at Jamaica was the Cardboard Boat Race, in which students built boats out of duct tape and cardboard and paddled across the pool.
Despite the talk of Jamaica being an academically poor school, it accomplished some great things before closing its doors. Jamaica was well-known for its robotics team and its award-winning women’s track team. The school also graduated a notable alumni pool of City Council members, judges, artists, performers, doctors, higher education administrators and more.
“This is a big disappointment as an alumnus,” Comrie said. “Jamaica has a solid history and should have been maintained.”
He added that the occasion for these graduates should not be overlooked and he is optimistic about them and their future endeavors.
“I’m happy that they’ve gotten the necessary tools to graduate. I’ll be happy to hear about them in the future,” Comrie said.
The momentous occasion was even sweeter for some students whose first language is not English. According to Principal Erich Kendall, the school consists of a large English as a second language population.
The final class started with 79 students, with the number decreasing as some students graduated in January. The 35 students who remained decreased to 24 after some of them learned they did not meet the requirements to graduate.
“They are a wonderful bunch,” said Kendall. “Because they’re so small we got to know them much better.”
Adriana Vega, 18, was the school’s last valedictorian. Her emotion-filled speech had herself, peers and guests filled with tears. She is saddened over the school’s closure but enjoyed her last year at Jamaica.
Vega’s fondest memories of her Jamaica High School career were making the playoffs with her volleyball team and making the championship round with her basketball team.
She will be attending Hunter College in the fall with an anticipated major in either chemistry or biology.