Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tolerating Failure

Today is Election Day, and I voted. My polling place is the Hedgepeth Williams school, which is a mere two blocks from my house. I walked over today with Matthew in tow, allowing him to walk for part of our journey, and when he became too distracted by the litter on the sidewalk, I opted to carry him the rest of the way. I always hear kids screaming in there. I can hear the screams from my house when my windows are open. I can hear them screaming right now. Because I'm a relatively positive person, I'll say that it sounds like there's a permanent pep rally happening in that school, but if I were a negative person, I could easily say that it sounds like bedlam.

The grounds are often strewn with the aforementioned toddler-distracting litter, and in the later months of the year, dead leaves. A couple of weeks ago, I watched a couple of kids throwing rocks at the windows along the Gladstone side of the building. I stopped the car and rolled down the windows, unsure of what I was going to say to the little punks, but they ran off before I made a fool of myself, and I hoped for the next few days that they didn't know where I live, lest my windows become their next target. The sign for the employee lot is on the ground, and the building is usually decorated in one spot or another with graffiti. On my way home, an elderly woman asked me if this was our voting spot, and I said yes. She asked me where the entrance was, and told her that it was on the Olden Avenue side of the building, and that there was a flag hanging on the fence near the door. I wanted to mention the graffiti, but I figured the flag was description enough.

You'd think that school officials could slap a bit of brown paint on the door to cover the graffiti, at least on Election Day, when the school should be saying, "we take the honor of being the area's polling station seriously, and we want you, the community, to admire us, and feel safe within this building." Alas, that is not the case here at Hedgepeth-Williams. I'm thinking about going over on Saturday morning and taking care of the graffiti myself.

When I got home, I grabbed Steve, and the three of us had a bite to eat and then a walk in the park; it's a beautiful autumn day. But I couldn't stop thinking about that school. We don't make a lot of money and I have no freakin' idea how we'll get Matthew educated, but he's not going to that school, even though it's two blocks from my house, and has an impressive history. That makes me sad. In the 1940s, two mothers in my neighborhood, Gladys Hedgepeth and Berline Williams, took action against the Trenton Board of Education because their children were not permitted to attend that school, then known as Junior #2 (some locals still call it that), simply because they were black. The Hedgepeth-Williams case was the precursor — by 10 years! — to the Brown v the Board of Ed case which outlawed racial segregation. So, the school should be an immense source of pride for Trenton, but instead, the school has slipped into academic embarrassment and is an eyesore. It's not all Mayor Doug Palmer's fault, but he appointed the school board, and he's been running (if you can call it that) Trenton for nearly 20 years, which is ample time to make the place shine.

I'm not one of those white parents of previous generations who chose to send her kid elsewhere simply because there were black kids in the school. I don't want to send my child to a school that is a complete failure. The Times of Trenton's Meir Rinde reported back in February that one of the state's lowest scoring middle schools was the Hedgepeth-Williams school, with proficiency in language somewhere around the 50% mark, and math around 40%. Egads. All the kids at one of Hamilton's schools passed the same test, just to put this in perspective. The fact that my kid and I are white makes me feel icky about my "I won't send my kid to that school" proclamation. Still, I'm not going to send my kid to a school that has no expectations, and I won't send him off to a place where failure is perfectly okay, if not outright celebrated (which seems to be commonplace here in Trenton). Maybe if I bitch enough — and in the off-chance, I'm joined by other local parents who find the current conditions at Junior #2 to be an insult the legacies of Mrs. Hedgepeth and Mrs. Williams, and, simply, an unacceptable environment for children — conditions will improve. We've got a few years before Matthew is school-aged, but I'm not sure if that is enough time to turn that school around.


Anonymous said...

Doug Palmer should hang his head in shame, and be run out of town on a rail. At the same time.

Miss Karen said...

I voted at the high school for the first time yesterday--they moved my polling place from the Knights of Columbus as of this election. The flag there was also the only indication of which of the myriad doors was the right one to use to vote, but even then I wasn't sure, because there were about two dozen kids standing outside blocking the door, and I didn't see any other voters coming in or out. I admit it was a little intimidating--who wants to walk through a pack of teenagers for any reason, really? But as I walked up toward the door someone started shooing the kids away.

That was my first trip inside the famed high school, and at least that particular corridor was depressing, dark, and crumbling. I wonder what impact Christie's election will have on the school budgets, for buildings or anything else.