Peabody hosting last graduation as it marks 100th anniversary

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Pittsburgh Schenley isn't the only city high school this year to pass into the great beyond.

After 100 years in operation, Pittsburgh Peabody High School in East Liberty also will graduate its final class.

The building will be vacant for a year, with Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 moving in the following school year.

When it opened in 1911, Peabody became the city's fourth high school -- after Central, Fifth Avenue and South Side. It was named for Dr. Benjamin H. Peabody, a physician who had served as a surgeon in the Union Army before coming to Pittsburgh. Dr. Peabody lived on North Highland Avenue, just three blocks from the school.

In Peabody's 100-year history, its list of notable alumni includes entertainers Gene Kelly, Charles Grodin and Frank Gorshin, professional athletes Kevan Barlow and John Tudor, writers John Edgar Wideman and Malcolm Cowley and artist Romare Bearden.

"We Peabody alums like to hold up our famous alums as examples of what Peabody was," said Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who graduated from Peabody in 1993 and was active in theater there. "We loved the idea that we were sharing the stage with people who became legends."

Sharene Shealey, a member of the Pittsburgh school board, graduated from Peabody in 1990 and praised the school's diversity and academic offerings.

The school was roughly evenly divided between black and white students, she said, and served as a convergence point for students from neighborhoods such as Garfield, Highland Park and East Liberty.

When she started college at Howard University to study chemical engineering, freshman year was easy compared to the academic rigor of Peabody.

The closing of the school is "bittersweet" for Ms. Shealey, who grew up in Friendship and now lives in East Liberty.

"The Peabody that I went to didn't exist for the students that are there today," she said. "We had 1,000 students strong, we had full course offerings. I am excited that we have the chance to create a new environment for them."

Gangs that were starting to take hold when Mr. Zober was a student at Peabody played a part in the dwindling of the school's student body. In a building that has a capacity of more than 1,200 -- and was once jammed with about 2,000 students -- just 281 are enrolled today.

In the most recent data from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams, less than a quarter of Peabody students scored proficient or adequate in reading, math and science.

Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School in Homewood, which also has suffered from low test scores and a shrinking student body, is being converted to the Academies at Westinghouse, a pair of six-12 single-gender schools.

"We weren't doing such a good job with our kids at Westinghouse and Peabody and we owe them a good education," said Sherry Hazuda, president of the Pittsburgh school board. "I hope this is an answer for both of them."

Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.


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