In 2013, the city of Philadelphia closed two dozen schools to fix a major budget deficit. Every day, on his way to work at Temple University's Tyler School of Art, artist and educator Pepon Osorio noticed the shuttered Fairhill Elementary School and wondered what became of the students and teachers who once filled its halls. In an effort to further explore the impact of closing public schools, Osorio got in touch with Fairhill's former staff and students. Their first gathering was a simple block party reunion, but Osorio was amazed by the turnout: "I had to cut hot dogs in half just so I could feed everyone!" It was clear to Osorio that Fairhill had meant something to these students and he wanted to do more.
In collaboration with former Fairhill teachers, students, parents, and neighbors, Osorio built a replica classroom inside the basement of Tyler School of Art, using objects salvaged from the Fairhill school building. The classroom was then used to host free public programs about education and public policy.
At the back of his exhibit, Osorio included an enlarged copy of the letter sent by Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite, to Fairhill Elementary families, informing them that their school would be closed.
As part of the installation, Osorio created a sculpture to honor each student who contributed to the project, using their personal items, photos, and videos.
The walls of the classroom are covered in essays the students wrote about what Fairhill Elementary School meant to them, which their former teachers edited directly on the wall.
ReForm not only explored the impact of closing a Philadelphia public elementary school, but on the broader context of how our public school system is failing students. Many schools have to buy drinking water because their outdated facilities leave dangerous levels of lead in the water.