In mid-July, Tiondra Suiter and Christina Seaton stood in a narrow Duquesne High School hallway, telling a reporter they staunchly opposed leaving the school district they'd attended all their lives and transferring to a district where they felt unwanted.
But in late August, after just three days at East Allegheny High School, their sentiments have changed.
"I was really upset and angry when they closed Duquesne. It was my school," says Suiter, a senior, standing on her porch, which overlooks her now-defunct former high school. "But now that I finally started at East Allegheny, I'm starting to like it."
"I like East Allegheny," agrees Seaton, a junior. "There's nothing wrong with it."
The state's Board of Control ordered Duquesne High School to close on June 5 because of dwindling enrollment and minimal course offerings.
But after the school closed, questions remained about where its roughly 200 students would be placed. In July, the state passed legislation allowing Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak to assign Duquesne students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin. But some people in those districts expressed concerns about taking in the new students [See City Paper, "School's Out," July 19]. Both districts fought the re-assignments. They have gone so far as to file lawsuits, challenging the legislation that allowed Zahorchak to assign students to both districts.
Those lawsuits are still pending, but they didn't affect this year's student transfers. Duquesne students were allowed to choose which school to attend: Roughly one-third chose East Allegheny, and two-thirds chose West Mifflin.
"It was really nice that we got to pick which school we wanted to go to," says Suiter. West Mifflin residents seemed much less accommodating, she says, and "If we didn't get to pick, people would have been upset."
Suiter and Seaton say they both miss Duquesne, but that East Allegheny offers much more than their old school ever did.
"I'm taking classes I've never even heard of before," says Suiter, who is studying graphics and journalism and is pondering a career in photojournalism. "It's exciting to learn something new. I think I'm going to be better prepared for college."
"It's going to be a better place for me to get an education," says Seaton.
Duquesne offered only four core-subject electives (classes like business math or British literature) compared to 11 offered at West Mifflin and 15 at East Allegheny. Duquesne also had no music program, and student athletes could choose between only two sports, basketball and football. Each of the four school districts bordering Duquesne's has 12 athletic teams.
Concerns that friction between communities might result in discipline problems, meanwhile, are proving groundless. East Allegheny High School Principal Gary Peiffer says no conflicts have been reported between students from Duquesne and East Allegheny. And after witnessing behavior during the first few days of school, he doesn't anticipate any.
"The Duquesne kids are a pleasure to have," he says. "They have been representing their community very well."
If problems do arise, however, Peiffer says peer groups are in place to help resolve conflicts.
"We're trying to be sensitive," he says. "We know it's a big transition. We're trying to do everything we can to make [the Duquesne students] feel comfortable."
And the new environment is slightly intimidating for the newcomers.
"East Allegheny is so huge," Suiter says. "I was walking around the halls like, 'Oh my goodness!'"
But, she adds, "Students met me on the first day and started showing me around." And she received words of inspiration from her new guidance counselor as well. "She told me that she wants to see me walk down that field and get my diploma," she says. "I'm wanted.
"I've got friends at East Allegheny. I'm taking new classes, meeting new faces, and I like it."
What would she do if her old high school were to reopen?
"If I had to choose between Duquesne and East Allegheny, I would choose East Allegheny," Suitor says.
The same goes for Seaton.
"I would have liked to stay at Duquesne, but East Allegheny is a better choice for me," she says. "It's going to help me more."