Monday, January 28, 2008

Letter to the Trenton Board of Education

I sent this via email last night:

Dear Members of Trenton's Board of Education, Superintendent Lofton, and Members of City Council,

I am an East Ward resident, living on the corner of [deleted for blog post] and
[deleted for blog post] avenues, about a block from the Hedgepeth-Williams School, and three blocks from Trenton Central High. I'm not an official member of any civic group here in Trenton, but in my four years on this corner, I have seen (and heard) thousands of Trenton school children pass my house. From here, I can see the decay in our school buildings – as clearly as I can see the heartbreaking stories on the faces of our city's children.

There's been a tendency in recent weeks to assume that those who would like to see the schools renovated can't possibly care about the school kids, but that isn't the case. The high school should have never been allowed to fall into that kind of disrepair; it has sent an inhospitable message to our already troubled children that there will be no refuge for even a few precious hours a day while at school, and that's just tragic.

So, there's some overlap, certainly, but we have two distinct problems: we have a crumbling building, and a very troubled society. Fixing one problem (the school) by either renovating or building new may have some positive effects on the other (the kids), but a building alone cannot remedy our society's ills.

Since, as far as I'm aware, Trenton does not have a site for a new building, the funding, priority on the SDA's list, or the ability to maintain a new building, and since we have an historic, handsome building, standing as a proud icon in my neighborhood, we need, as a community, to figure out a way to fix that building, and maintain it, so it can continue to serve our children. Any modern building will not be built with the same magnificence, or careful attention to detail, and certainly will be not standing in 75 years. We – all of us in Trenton – have needed the use of band-aids and short-term remedies because of our wounds are so many, so deep. But there comes a time when we need to take a further look down the road; we need to be responsible to future generations of schoolchildren, as well as their families, and we can do that by fixing the existing school.

And while we're working on fixing the existing high school, we can work together to help try to fix, or at least sooth, some of our society's ills. Poverty, crime, and neglect will not go away with a new structure, and they won't go away with a renovated school. They won't go away just because we're "blameless" (we're not the parents). Helping our local kids – many of whom are children of poverty and neglect – will take a lot of research, maybe some new philosophies, a bit of time, and a lot more work – more work than it will take to renovate the existing school, or build a new one. But we can make a difference, as a community. I'm sure of it. I personally, would like to take some steps to help reach that goal, and in the next few days will look for different ways to get more involved with the kids in this city. If you have ideas for specific areas where I can be of service, please let me know; my contact information is below.

We have learned, as humans, that when we lose our iconic buildings – think of Sarajevo in the 1990s, and the World Trade Center in 2001 – we mourn the loss of the buildings, not as much as we mourn for the people who died in those places, certainly. But those buildings represent so much of humanity's greatness, of what we can accomplish, and the empty footprints left behind are a throbbing, aching reminder of what was, and what could have been. In the case of TCHS, we run the risk of losing it to neglect or demolition, rather than to war or terrorism, but the effects on this community here in the East Ward, will be devastating, nonetheless.

But all is not lost. We have some complicated problems on our hands, but just as we are able to erect splendid buildings, we have the same ability to promote healing. We need to fix that handsome building – an attainable goal – while we continue working on the deeper, more troublesome issues of our wounded city to give these kids a better chance in life.

Respectfully yours,
Christine Ott
[address and phone number deleted for blog post]
Trenton, NJ 08629


Caroline said...

Excellent letter. I hope you get a response with some ideas or that you share what you come up with.

Dan G. Tawnie said...

My God that was well-written.

You should write a blog or something.