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Jamaica High hands out last batch of diplomas to 25

By Juan Soto

School’s out. Forever.

Just 25 Jamaica High School seniors put on their caps and gowns last week and made history by playing key roles in the school’s final commencement ceremony. It was a bittersweet celebration.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg placed Jamaica High on its list of failing schools because of the low graduation rates. And since 2011, the educational center has been phasing out one grade per year.

Now, with the last graduating class, Jamaica High closes the book on its 122-year history. The building remains open, but it houses three other smaller schools.

Instead of graduating at the historic school’s auditorium, the seniors held their commencement ceremony at Antun’s, a restaurant in Queens Village, miles away from their classrooms and blackboards.

“The kids’ enthusiasm took the bitterness out of the moment,” said James Eterno, a social studies teacher who worked at Jamaica HS for the past 28 years. “These kids made it, and they made it despite all the difficulties they faced.”

The social science teacher pointed out that since the school started to phase out a grade at a time, the faculty also began its own shrinking process.

“Another social studies teacher, for example, had to give art classes,” said Eterno, adding that by the end Jamaica High was lacking art, second language and music teachers. “DOE [city Department of Education] promised a full program at the school when they announced the phasing out, but they didn’t keep that promise.”

Despite rallies of support and the opposition to shutting the school down from several elected officials, Jamaica High is history.

“This is very sad,” said the teacher.

With the new administration stepping in, faculty at the school thought Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña would reconsider the decision to shutter Jamaica High. Teachers tried to convince DOE to keep the school open by having a small freshman class coming in this fall, but the idea got an F.

“The idea was to keep the name alive, but DOE did nothing,” Eterno said.

Jamaica High’s famous graduates include filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Alan Dugan.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), while his two brothers graduated from Jamaica High, and their mother was a teacher there for more than 40 years.

The legislator was a speaker at the last graduating class. The closing of the school “saddens me greatly,” he told the graduation ceremony.

But he added that “the history and the legacy of the school will live on in the accomplishments of its graduates, all of us here today.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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