Rice High School, a private, Catholic, all-boys school in Harlem, could be closing its doors for good this year due to financial difficulties, much to the dismay of students, alumni, and members of the surrounding community. However, that doesn’t mean that they are without hope.
“When I think about Rice closing, I think about all of the underclassmen who won’t be able to graduate,” said Cole Francis, valedictorian of this year’s graduating class. “Now they have to go to different schools and adapt to different atmospheres, and the worst part is that they won’t be graduating with their original Rice brothers. The people they’ve been with all four years.”
Undergraduate students from Rice have applied to various high schools around the city, such as Xavier, Regis, and Iona Prep. From there, they will continue their high schools careers as students of their new schools.
“Making the change to my second choice of high school will be hard for me,” said Isaac Aduagyei, a sophomore who will now be attending Cardinal Hayes, “I was used to the Rice life; getting dressed in my Rice vest, going to school close to home in Harlem, and walking into the school felt good because I knew entering that school that something good was going to happen that day. When they told me that Rice was closing, my heart dropped.”
News of Rice’s imminent closure has also been poorly received in its community.
“I can’t believe it’s actually closing,” said Harlem resident Eileen Johnson. “That school has been there for as long as I can remember. I believe that the black community in particular needs schools like Rice to give our youth a chance to rise up and be successful, and seeing this institution close is a damn shame.”
Johnson’s sentiments are not without background evidence. Since its founding in 1938, Rice has a particularly impressive record, both academically and athletically. In addition to producing a plethora of athletes such as basketball players Felipe López, Durand Scott, and Kemba Walker (among several others), it also boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate for graduating seniors, and over $4,600,000 in college scholarships over its life. Kawone Williams, Director of Development at Rice, thinks that this is the most tragic aspect of the school’s closure.
“It’s not like the school is a failure,” he said. “If we were closing because kids were dropping out or we had a low graduate rate, I could understand. But we’re a success and an excellent model of what a high school should be.”
“High school is a pivotal moment on everyone’s life,” he continued. “It helps build who you are. In college, you get to shine and perfect yourself, but high school molds you. When I was in Rice, we had a principal who really stressed the idea that you can be born a male, but you must earn the right to become a man. And that’s what Rice High School provides for its students.”
Declining enrollment is a factor in the school’s closure. According to their website, enrollment has gone “from 385 students in 2003 to 232 in 2010 – a loss of 40 percent. The school has the capacity for 400 students. This decline in enrollment and tuition revenue has exacerbated the school’s financial challenges, in addition to a decline in donations and the increasing and frequent costs required to maintain the deteriorating building at 74 West 124th Street.”
However, despite all of these setbacks, the Board of Directors is attempting to find a way to not only keep the school open, but keep its current location in Harlem as well.
School administrators aren’t the only ones doing what they can to keep Rice open. A small number of grassroots movements have cropped up on Facebook to raise money for Rice, one of which is Team Save Rice.
Team Save Rice is a small group founded by Rice 2011 graduates Shaquille Barr and Ari Brown, who believe that Rice is a part of history and should be kept open for future generations.
“Destroying Rice would be like destroying history,” Barr said. “The reasons for it closing don’t make any sense when compared with its profile as a school, and future generations of not only black and Hispanic young men, but all young men, will be denied the opportunity to benefit from a quality education. Also, the tuition is very low compared to other schools, so people are getting the best of both worlds.”
“The school helps black men in particular,” said Brown. “It has done a lot for me personally. When I entered Rice, I had the mentality of a little boy, and thought everything was all fun and games. Now that I’ve come out of Rice, I’m prepared to take on life as a man.”
Team Save Rice currently consists of 104 members, and they are planning a demonstration in front of the school sometime in the near future, as well as setting up fund raisers.