NEW YORK —Last year, the oldest high school in the Bronx was forced to close its doors and reorganize into five smaller schools in response to struggles with student attendance, academic performance and school violence. As the new campus reopened this year and began a new chapter, three Fordham students volunteered to help make sure the legacy of what once was Morris High School will never be forgotten.“Morris, a school that is over a hundred years old, and has produced many famous alumni, has decided to keep that tradition alive by turning a large classroom in the building into a museum that highlights the history of the school and the surrounding Morrisania community,” said Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of African American studies and director of the Urban Studies Program, who is also a member of the Morris Museum and Legacy Committee.
Aisha Russell, a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH), Princess Okieme, a sophomore at the College of Business Administration and Charles Johnson, a freshman at FCRH, volunteered to help build the museum. They worked with teachers and administrators at Morris to turn a dusty classroom into an archive gallery filled with accolades, awards, photographs and pieces of the past.
Morris High School opened its doors to the landmark building at East 166th Street and Boston Road in 1897. Gen. Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, and television journalist Gabe Pressman are among notable alumni. A sign of the problems that preceded the shutdown—in 2005, less than 100 students received diplomas in the school’s final graduating class, the same class that started out in 2001 with an enrollment of more than 800 students. The five smaller schools are part of an initiative to turn that trend around.
Following a rededication ceremony for the five new schools on Nov. 15, the doors to the Morris Museum were officially opened. Thanks in large part to the helping hands from Fordham.
“Simply put, we couldn’t have done it without them,” said Jane Berkowicz, a teacher center facilitator with the United Federation of Teachers who headed up the project to build the museum. “They provided the energy and time to make the museum a reality.”
But the students said they were the ones who benefited from the experience.
“It was a real hands-on lesson about history. I learned so much about the Bronx and the borough’s first high school, [working on the project]made history come to life,” said Okieme.