Declining enrollment cited as one of many reasons why this 40-year-old school has closed its doors for good.
When you stroll down the halls of Akron’s Barrett Academy, it looks like any other school hallway, until you look closer.
The doorways are wide open and they actually don’t have doors at all. Handrails make it easier for students in wheelchairs to make their way down the hall.
Built in the early 70s, Barrett Elementary School was Akron’s first wheelchair accessible school.
Even more important, every classroom has an emergency door that leads directly outside. Each class has a restroom, too.
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Barrett was designed this way when it opened in 1973 as Akron’s only wheelchair accessible school building. The open pod-style classrooms were designed for the school’s orthopedic and multiple-handicapped students.
Located at 888 Jonathan Avenue, Barrett was named after Dr. Clinton Delos Barrett, a veterinarian was a longtime advocate for public education.
Barrett has two playgrounds, including one with wheelchair swings and a four-person seesaw. It also has a large room dedicated to physical and occupational therapy.
Now as the city faces declining enrollment, Barrett has closed and its students are moving into some of Akron’s brand-new Community Learning Center buildings.
Parents, teachers and staff members gathered on June 6 for a “Remembrance Day Stroll” to discuss Barrett’s history of education for physically and mentally disabled students.
When the news came down about Barrett’s closing, “that population was devastated,” said teacher Sharon Jialanella, who is retiring after 33 years. “The teachers and parents are used to a quality of service here that they are afraid won’t be matched elsewhere.”
In order to calm these fears, Akron Public Schools officials have allowed Barrett students to visit the buildings where they will be learning this fall.
Christine Pope, parent of a Barrett student, said these efforts have already seen some success.
“One child said, ‘My belly hurts,’ entering the new school but said ‘I feel better’ at the end of the visit. The welcome we got was tremendous, because we were so nervous,” she said.
Special equipment tagged for individual students will follow them to their new schools, Pope noted.
Still, the change from a centralized location at Barrett to neighborhoods will have its challenges, according to principal Cherry Gore.
“Here at Barrett, we have a unique perspective with more staff and more space,” she said.
Jackie Hogue, a counselor at Barrett for 10 years, also expressed her concern about the move away from the centralized location at Barrett.
“The therapists will have to make their way to a number of buildings, and if they can’t be there, the student will miss that therapy,” she said.
However, transportation won’t present too large of a challenge, according to principal Cherry Gore.
“Our children who are medically fragile will be transported to the schools according to their needs, as per the state mandate,” she said.
Gore said that one factor will determine the successful transition from Barrett Academy to the new schools is “the positive climate of ‘we welcome you.’ Children of all cognitive abilities need to know they are loved and cared for.”
Karen Liddell-Anderson, the Akron Public Schools director of special education, said the news of the school closing caused a “bell curve” of reactions from the Barrett community.
“Some were very excited and some were apprehensive,” she said. “We offer a full continuum of services at our schools, so these students will get what they need.
“Any time you can move away from being segregated, there’s an overall benefit,” Liddell-Anderson added. “The real world goes in both directions.”