Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Lesson

In my hometown, it is a sad day.

My elementary school is being torn down. After years of sitting empty, a new business is going to replace the historic building.

Many of the residents are upset about this. Should they be? Of course, but there is a “but” to this whole thing. Although it pains me to see my beloved old school reduced to a pile of rubble, I get it. I get what is happening.

It is a total metaphor for the direction of my town, and many others. We, as a society, are in many ways, selfish. Turning a blind eye. Ignorant. Too quiet.

Where to start? My little school housed students in Kindergarten through grade 5 for many, many years. We had four K-5 neighborhood schools in this town as far back as I could remember. About 10 years ago, or so, our town decided to change it up a bit. Our schools were aging, so they decided to build a new school – a “primary” school, for PreK through grade 2. They closed two of the elementary schools, including mine, and left the remaining two neighborhood schools to house grades 3 to 5.

And that was the end of my school. The building sat, unused, for a quite a while. There was talk about putting our town offices in it, but that was squashed, primarily because this school sits in a certain part of my town which is... well, less privileged? A lower income demographic? I'm trying to put it nicely, I guess. I grew up in this part of town and I see nothing wrong with it, but for my entire life, this part of town has been considered just “less” than the other part. No Town Hall would every be located here.
The windows to my 4th grade classroom, with my absolute favorite teacher.
Many ideas for the little school were thrown out: Senior centers, community centers, teen centers, etc. But each and every one of those ideas costs money. And my town does not have money. Our taxes our low, and each spring, our residents are very reluctant to pass a increase in our town and school budgets. We just get by, and barely, and even now, with meager increases, our town roads need help. Each and every department in town could use some extra cash. So spending any amount the luxury of refurbishing an old drafty school into a community center is not exactly a wise use of tax dollars when there are potholes to be fixed.

Eventually the town decided that they needed to get rid of these excess, unused properties. So my little school went up for sale. A businessman bought it, and he wanted to turn it into senior apartments. However, parking requirements were an issue; he couldn't get the number of apartments he wanted out of the building; and finally, the economy tanked. And that was that.

The businessman got an offer from a chain pharmacy which had a location down the road and wanted to relocated. They applied to come to town, and that was that. A done deal.

And all the while, over the years, few, if any, came out to speak to save this building. There were a few history afficionados, but not enough. Not enough voices. There are voices now, today, as a wrecking ball tears through the side of the building, but where were they?

This whole situation is a metaphor, as I said. We are so wrapped up in our microcosms, our tiny worlds, not paying attention. This whole issue with the school played out for years in our local newspapers, but was anyone reading? Was anyone speaking out in public participation sessions in meetings? Was anyone writing letters? Not really. Now the visual is in front of them, and people are upset. Cursing the town. Cursing the pharmacy chain.

But they really have no one to blame but themselves.

There is something to be said for preserving the past – both physically and mentally. Last night, there was a gathering of former students and teachers at the school site, and many reminisced about the old days, and many realized how strong friendships were formed over the years at the school.

Today, in my town, children don't have the opportunity to be in the same building for 6 years of their lives, growing up around the same children, the same families, and their neighbors, walking to school in droves and stopping to buy penny candy on the way home. It's different. And I don't think it's better either. Those families all knew each other and each other's kids and when something was amiss, parents knew right away. And we had teachers watch us grow, physically and mentally, and our siblings as well. We had gym teachers and art teachers and principals who were with us for years. We had siblings in school with us. Today, in my town, we flit from school to school, and by the time you get your bearings in one building with one group of kids you are on to the next school. There is no foundation. Less of a sense of belonging. I doubt that people would turn out in droves in 40 years to see our primary school torn down. It's just not the same.

The building is a loss. We don't value the old, because the old is costly of both time and money. But today, while there is crying and moaning about “How did this happen?” -- I hope that my neighbors have learned a valuable lesson about preserving the past, preserving tradition, preserving a town and a community and a neighborhood, and most importantly, bonding together early to make a difference in the future by learning from days gone by.

Don't just sit back. Speak up.
Forget about what others may think about you.
If your convictions are strong enough, and right enough,
there are others out there who feel the same way.
And they will see your bravery and speak up too.
And together, you just might make a difference in the future.


  1. I have to say I agree to just about every single word you have written.Growing up directly behind the school.Good job.

  2. I reall y like what you said.we were all caught up in our lives to fight for our school. Now it is too late.

  3. Oh, how sad. Seems like everywhere people don't fight until it's too late. It's sad but I think it's happening everywhere (that doesn't make it ok though, in my opinion).

    I'm glad our elementary schools go from K-6. The kids, parents and staff really feel a sense of belonging when they're at a school for so long.