Sunday, September 25, 2011

Selling it short

When I learned that our school district was closing two neighborhood schools this year I experienced all the usual emotions a parent feels. I was disappointed that my children wouldn't be able to walk to school, up hill, both ways, in the snow and sleeting rains of September.

They wouldn't learn to diagram sentences or practice fluid writing at the brick school building just a few doors down the street. The joyful noise of students on the playground would be silenced.

As a community member, though, I was resigned. If there really were fewer students to educate, and less money with which to teach them, consolidation was inevitable. I felt sorry for the elderly people who showed up at board meetings voicing a widely held belief that with the economy in its current state something had to give … but it wouldn't be them.

They'd already given enough.

Consolidation wasn't a perfect solution. The buildings would still need to be maintained, though not to the same extent as they would were they being used. The real savings was in the form of jobs. And so it was decided the schools would close. Class size would increase. Scores of teachers would be released to hunt for employment elsewhere.

We weren't an exception to any rule. We fit a pattern that is being cut and sewn across the country. Tighter waistlines everywhere.

Schools nationwide are feeling the pain of this severe recession. Some districts have been decimated; half of their schools and staff already scraped off the chopping block. Schools are combining classes, cutting back on arts, some are even scaling back their hours of education all together. Teachers are buying communal supplies out of their own pockets. Some are ending their school day cleaning their own classrooms as maintenance jobs are eliminated.

Bare bones in the classroom, for some, has even meant doing away with soap and towels in the bathroom, opting instead for anti-bacterial hand sanitizers.

Doing without is something that seems inevitable for everyone in every industry. Unless you happen to be in a corner office in Corporate America, where profits are soaring despite jobs being stagnant.

It seems only the rich are eating their cake and having it, too.

But for how long?

I shake the thought from my mind long enough to help the kids on with their bike helmets. They want to ride to the playground. It will be their first bike ride outside of our meandering driveway.

They've been practicing.

They know they'll have to stop and look before crossing driveways. They're ready and eager to hop off and walk their bikes through intersections.

Getting to the playground under their own pedal power has important meaning. Another step toward independence as they embark on the long road to self-sufficiency.

All was as it should be.

Until we got to the school and found great heaving craters where the playground equipment used to be. Gone were the slides and monkey bars and climbing walls. Gone were the swings. The only thing remaining was an octagonal picnic table and a few chunks of discarded cement.

Where did it go?

I asked ittybit if they maybe moved it to another school, the most likely possibility.

She didn't know. They didn't move it to her school.

Maybe they sold it.

Whatever it was, it wasn't here - in this neighborhood - any more.

Standing there staring at the empty schoolyard felt more than depressing. It felt vaguely apocalyptic.

The only thing that could make that moment worse would have been if we had been holding ice cream cones and accidentally dropped them in the detritus.

Or perhaps a balloon, popped by the need to give investors their profits.

The disappearance of the neighborhood school wasn't so much of a weight lifted as a missing piece.

Small pieces gone for now. Maybe even forever.

If this is the future, I can't help but think we're selling it short.

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