“Every school I ever went to in Flint is gone”Addressing Flint's ongoing urban blight as a result of school closings

This article is part of the People-Centered Oversight Series, which aims to elevate the issues most affecting the Flint community. The series was created in partnership with Flint Beat and made possible by support from The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
It was a realization that hit me like a ton of bricks after my daughter recently asked about my middle school days. As I began to tell her about my time at Longfellow Middle School, I remembered that the school was closed years ago, along with Civic Park Elementary School and Northern High School. After a moment of thought, it dawned on me that every grade school I ever attended in Flint was now permanently closed, and either redeveloped into different public spaces or abandoned and left to crumble.

Memories swam to the surface of my mind as I remembered the sounds of life in those schools' hallways, busy with students scrambling to make it from class to class before the bell rang. I thought about the countless Flint students in surrounding neighborhoods who received a decent education that was close to their homes.

When word spread in 2007 that Longfellow would be closing, it felt like a part of me was going away with it. It would be among the 20+ schools that closed in Flint over the years due to a cluster of issues such as a decreasing population, low school enrollment, and the city's multi-million dollar deficit.

The result of school closings left Flint with more empty buildings than it could fill or demolish, creating an urban blight problem that's getting impossible to ignore. Views of stripped-down abandoned schools with endless sprawls of graffiti are common across the city as the vacant buildings are actively vandalized, defaced, and used for illegal dumping. As of late, there has been an improvement in blight elimination in Flint and Genesee County, but there is no word yet if abandoned schools are included in the plan.

I decided to go see the buildings I spent the majority of my early life in - those academic and community spaces that helped shape the young minds of Flint residents for generations. With my daughter in tow, who was eager to take a ride down memory lane with me, I grabbed my camera and headed out the door.

Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School (closed in 2012)
The former Bunche Elementary School now houses the Flint Development Center in Flint, Michigan. Taken on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)The first stop was the former Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School where I attended kindergarten through 5th grade. Located at 4121 Martin Luther King Ave, the school was built in 1967 and offered classes from pre-k through 6th grade until its closing in 2012. The building was redeveloped into the Flint Development Center (FDC) which serves as a multi-purpose facility that offers valuable services to the community such as youth camps, workforce development, and senior citizen activities. 
The notable glass stain windows are still intact on the building that was home to Bunche Elementary School for nearly 45 years. Taken on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
While scrolling through FDC's website, I was excited to see The Literacy Lab which assists with afterschool homework help and tutoring. The service is offered Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m to 7 p.m. Although it's not the beloved elementary school I remember, I am relieved and proud to see the space being utilized as a positive space and resource on the city's north side.

Civic Park Elementary (closed in 2010)
Boarded-up windows in the front of Civic Park Elementary School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. The school closed its doors in 2010. (Tia Scott | Flintside)When we arrived at the former Civic Park Elementary School, I was heartbroken. Unlike the redevelopment of Bunche, Civic Park was left abandoned with visible displays of stripping, and graffiti on each side of the building. I only attended this school in the 6th grade due to my parents moving to the neighborhood in the early '90s, but it had such an impact on me. I made friends that I'm still friends with today. 
Several boards that cover large windows collapse at the abandoned Civic Park Elementary School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)Growing up on the north side of Flint in the early to mid-90s, I recognized the rising hardships in my neighborhood such as poverty and gun violence, but it seemed like the school kept us grounded and connected. I remember meeting an older teen when I was 14 who said that he never sold drugs near the school because it was against his street code. Even in his disposition, he still respected Civic Park. 
Side-view of the abandoned Civic Park Elementary School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)The school was built in 1922 in the historical Civic Park neighborhood which was established in 1919. As the building remains vacant, along with the majority of houses that surround it, plans for the former Civic Park Elementary remain unknown. 

Longfellow Middle School (closed in 2007)
Front-view of Longfellow Middle School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. The school closed its doors in 2007. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
Sitting at 1255 N. Chevrolet Ave is the former Longfellow Middle School. It was where I learned how to play chess in Mr. Virgilio's math class and fell in love with the written word in Mr. Burke's English Composition. He introduced me to the word "incomprehensible" which was the first 'big' word I ever learned.
Longfellow Middle School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. The school closed its doors in 2007. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
The school was closed in 2007 and has been vacant ever since. Graffiti and signs of vandalism are found on every side of the building as large potholes and cracked pavement fill the parking lot. Aside from a reported fire in 2019, there have been no updates on the fate of the former middle school.

Northern High School (closed in 2014)
Northern High School's welcome sign in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. The school closed its doors in 2014. (Tia Scott | Flintside)Home of the mighty Vikings, Flint's former Northern High School is located at G-3284 Mackin Road. I only attended Northern during my freshman year, but the school pride there was contagious. Although I didn't quite fit in, it still felt good to be a Viking. The pep rallies were amazing and Northern's school band was unstoppable. The rivalry between Northern and Northwestern's basketball teams throughout the '90s and early 2000s would bring the city out in droves to root for their favorite high school teams. 

Large windows are boarded up near the main entrance of the abandoned Northern High School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
When our family lived on Brownell Blvd, off of Dayton Ave, around 1995, I would often hear Northern's band from afar as they practiced on the weekends. I remember dancing in my parent's driveway and pretending to be a majorette with my best friend while the band played on.
Sprawls of trash, including tires, mattresses, and an abandoned boat lay in the parking lot of Northern High School in Flint, Michigan on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
The school closed its doors in 2014 due to the district's budget deficit, leaving the house that Vikings built to rust. Even years after Northern's closing, loyal Vikings put forth efforts to celebrate their school pride by having annual tailgate parties on the school's grounds. However, due to years of neglect, a lack of surveillance in the area, illegal dumping, and a fire in 2021, the former school joins the long list of forgotten properties on Flint's north end.

Schools of Choice High School (closed in 2013)
The building that was once home to Flint's Schools of Choice High School is now home to Catholic Charities' Center for Hope. Taken on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
After my freshman year at Northern, I honestly wanted to be done with school. It didn't feel like I was getting the academic stimulation and freedom I was craving. I convinced my parents to let me attend Schools of Choice which was an alternative learning school located at 517 E. 5th Ave, near downtown Flint. The curriculum was right up my alley as the school allowed students to complete classes at their own pace. It was at this school that I cultivated valuable life skills like discipline, accountability, and goal-setting since my education was pretty much in my hands.
A large mural is displayed on the building that houses Center of Hope in Flint, Michigan. Taken on March 13, 2023. (Tia Scott | Flintside)
I ended up earning all of my high school credits four months before my graduation date. It was such a huge accomplishment for me, and I truly believe it's because of the flexible learning options Choice provided to Flint students for over 37 years. The school closed its doors in 2013, but like Bunche Elementary, the building was redeveloped and is now home to Catholic Charities' Center for Hope. The newly remodeled facility offers food, clothing, shelter, medical resources, and counseling services to those in need in the Flint community.

Despite schools closing across the city, Flint residents have proved that school pride still stands strong. That nostalgic pride can be seen in the video above which displays a mural of some of Flint's most loved high schools, including Northern, Northwestern, and Central that may be gone but are certainly not forgotten. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Tia Scott.