WHEATLAND Students are true to Farrell schools
Students interviewed said they have no interest in changing school districts.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
FARRELL, Pa. -- Farrell High School students who live in Wheatland said they were never asked their opinion on a proposal to pull Wheatland out of the Farrell Area School District.
Wheatland residents have formed a group called Wheatland's Educational Alternatives Task Force (WhEAT), which has filed a petition with Mercer County Common Pleas Court seeking to separate the borough from the school district and make it a part of the West Middlesex Area School District.
The petition offers a list of reasons, including allegations that Farrell has failed to demonstrate it is acting in the best interest of Wheatland pupils; disciplinary and behavioral standards at West Middlesex are more conducive to education and personal growth and development; West Middlesex has a superior curriculum; and Farrell no longer provides a safe and stable learning environment.
Students speak out
Farrell High School students who live in Wheatland, however, said WhEAT never asked them what they thought.
Steven Fraley, 18, of Orchard Street in Wheatland, a senior, said he attended one of WhEAT's meetings to speak his mind.
"They just brushed me aside like my opinion didn't matter," he said.
"Some think that, because we're teens, we don't know what we're talking about," said Blair Legg, 16, of Fulton Street, Wheatland, a sophomore.
The Vindicator met with Farrell High School students from Wheatland to gauge their reaction to WhEAT's plan.
None of those interviewed supported the proposal to pull Wheatland out of the Farrell Area School District.
"High school students are old enough to choose where we want to go to school," said Travis Huntley, 15, of Fulton Street, Wheatland, a sophomore.
"They need to talk to us to see what we want," added Sherrie Custer, 18, of Emerson Avenue, Wheatland, a senior.
High school students are at the peak of their academics. Why should they be forced to move from their school and their friends, asked Fraley.
"They haven't asked us about Farrell and where we want to go," said Jessica Varcholik, 15, of Hamilton Avenue, Wheatland, a sophomore.
Praise for Farrell
"It's been the best environment for me," she said.
"We have the best teachers around," Custer said.
"The best education," Huntley added.
Farrell teachers and administrators are willing to listen to students about anything, Fraley said.
The students were critical of WhEAT's claim in its petition that students in Farrell are more exposed to teenage pregnancy, drug use, gang activity and other social problems.
The students said teen pregnancies are not unique to Farrell.
As for the allegations of drug and gang activity, "None of that happens here. There's no gangs here. They just jumped to conclusions about Farrell," Varcholik said.
"They seem to mistake cliques for gangs," Fraley said.
"Assumptions are assumptions," Legg said.
There might be drugs on the streets, but they aren't evident in school, Huntley said.
They're on the streets in Wheatland as well, Fraley added.
Fraley said it appears to him that the main issue leading to the WhEAT petition is a lack of transportation for seventh- through 12th-graders from Wheatland who attend Farrell.
Indeed, that lack of transportation and the lack of sidewalks on Mercer and Council avenues are issues raised in WhEAT's petition. The group said West Middlesex will provide transportation for all Wheatland pupils.
Some Farrell kids walk farther than we do, Varcholik said
"We're only one mile," Huntley noted.
In bad weather, the Wheatland kids get rides from one another or their parents anyway, Custer said.
Walking to school isn't a problem, at least not one big enough to make a fuss over, Legg said.
"Not enough to move away and go to a new school," added Varcholik.
Some adults opposed to WhEAT's plan have suggested the secession movement is racially motivated. Farrell, with an enrollment of 1,100, is 70 percent black and 30 percent white.
Members of WhEAT have adamantly denied that race plays any part in its efforts, but the students aren't so sure.
"I think it is because of the racial issues," Legg said. "They're just trying to sugar-coat it [by raising other issues]."
There are no racial issues in Farrell High School, Varcholik said.
WhEAT's petition carried the signatures of 244 people.
Some students said their parents signed it, even though they had asked them not to.
Legg said she is working on producing a counterpetition asking people if they want Wheatland to remain a part of the Farrell Area School District.
All of the students said they will sign it.
"Bottom line: None of us want to go to West Middlesex," Custer said.