Death at Jackson School


Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., experienced a shocking loss last week when 7-year-old Sebastian Gerena fell victim to a rare congenital heart defect. The student became ill at the school on Wednesday afternoon and was rushed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The first-grade student was pronounced dead upon arrival.

The autopsy revealed, according to the the Medical Examiner’s Office, that Gerena suffered from “an anomalous origin of the left coronary artery,” which results in a condition that restricts blood from reaching the heart and reduces oxygen levels in the blood that does reach the heart. 

Many questions arose when the details of the lack of a school nurse made headlines. Jackson School benefits from the presence of a nurse in the building only on Thursdays and every other Friday, but luckily a CPR-trained aide was on-hand to administer life-saving efforts and call 911.

While it is unclear whether or not an in-school nurse would have been able to save the boy’s life, no one is questioning how the Passyunk Square school (and every other school in the district) would benefit from more funding and support staff.

The statement from Superintendent William Hite echoed this sentiment.

“At the time of the incident, the student was surrounded by loving and caring people, including a school counselor, teacher, support staff and community volunteer. … We are tremendously grateful for their service," he said. "This incident, however, illustrates the serious needs and challenges that our students, teachers, staff and principals face every day. During times of tragedy, our community should not have to question whether an extra staff member or program would have made a difference.”

In a letter released by Gov. Tom Corbett’s office, he praised the staff on their handling of the situation and offered sympathy.

“I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the child, and I want to commend the staff at Jackson Elementary for their prompt response," Corbett said.  "As a parent and grandparent, I can only imagine how heartbreaking this loss is for the child’s family, classmates, teachers and friends.”

He also reminded citizens that nurse staffing decisions were made five years ago by the previous administration.

The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, issued a statement concerning the need of additional staffing resources.

“We need more nurses, counselors and other services for children in our schools. We want Corbett and his School Reform Commission to take ownership for denying these programs to Philadelphia’s school children, and take responsibility for restoring them.”

Jackson School community members, parents, students and staff marched in the rain on Thursday from City Hall to Corbett’s office, 200 S. Broad St. Also on Thursday, led by the Friends of Jackson president, Melissa Wilde, the Jackson School community demanded more support from the city and state from the steps of the school.

“We must speak out today — in the midst of the pain and grieving caused by this tragedy — because we are once again forced to ask questions that we should never have to ask. Unfortunately, this child is the third Jackson student lost in the last two years,” she told cameras, referring to at least one sixth grader who died last fall after an asthma attack.

“What if this school had a full-time nurse? What if this school had a full-time counselor? Could they save the next child’s life?” Wilde asked. “And we will not stand by any longer while the lives of the children of this city are threatened by a lack of basic resources.”

Wilde provided a more detailed response to the South Philly Review.

ldquo;Nurses and counselors fill essential roles in our schools. These professional do so much more than put band-aids on skinned knees or help students fill out applications for high school or college," she said. "Nurses and counselors serve as early warning systems for problems and create a more stable and safe learning environment for all of our children by their very presence…Severe health, emotional or mental problems have ripple effects that reverberate far beyond the individual students who might suffer from them…The public needs to understand the importance of nurses and counselors for our students. Unfortunately, our school has learned a lot about this first hand.”

Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.