I'm looking for ideas/advice on how to help my son's school recover from a costly act of vandalism?
My son goes to a school called Crossroads Elementary. He just turned 8, just started 2nd grade a week before and this is an elementary school that goes through 6th grade, so he has 5 more years here. It’s an excellent school with a great Principal, and it’s walking distance from my house. It’s also only been around for 10 years, and it basically teaches peace as part of its mission. The kids at this school are really taught to cooperate and be peaceful, respectful, keep their hands to themselves, etc. and they make kids sign a contract each year specifying that they’ve read the handbook which lays out appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for any given situation. I really like the school also because it teaches kids to think, it doesn’t just teach facts, dates, etc. It also has a very diverse student population, and it teaches both a Science program (which is where my son is, he needs more structure and is more of a critical thinker) and a Montessori program. They do a lot of unique and creative things, like having kids be with the same teacher for 2 years instead of 1 (so his 2nd grade teacher was his 1st grade teacher last year). It’s also a year round school. In short, I can’t say enough great things about the school…sure, his experience hasn’t been “perfect”, but whose school experience has? All in all, I feel very fortunate to have a school this good be this close to my house.
So, anyway, on Tuesday night (9/15/09), I was picking my son up from “Discovery Club”, which is an after school program we have him in on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays to work around my wife’s work schedule (not as big of an issue while I’m out of work, but we’ve kept him in it because it gives me more time to look for work, and he enjoys it and gets value out of it). So, I picked him up a little after 5:30, and he wanted to play on what we call the “small” playground (there’s a small playground in front of the school with a merry go round, swings and a slide, more designed for younger kids, and a larger playground with really nice equipment in back of the school) for a couple minutes before we went home, and I said that was OK, so we walked outside, I sat on a bench facing the school and the playground. Suddenly, I started to see thick black smoke billowing from behind the school, and I said to my son half jokingly that I thought his school was on fire (I knew something was on fire, but it looked like it was next to the school, I thought maybe the neighbor was burning something). So, I walked to the back of the school and this is what I saw.
I didn’t want to get any closer and there is no zoom on my phone camera, so it’s kind of hard to make out, but you can tell that the playground equipment is on fire. I could hear sirens, but I didn’t want to assume those sirens were for this fire, and no one else was there yet, school was already out for the day and I didn’t know if it would have been visible from inside, so I called 911, but they had already gotten a call (I found out later they’d gotten many, I guess inside the school they were making an announcement not to call 911 as so many already had). I saw the fire department come and douse it quickly, but not before a lot of damage was done.
We left, my son was quite shaken, one of the disadvantages I suppose of going to a peace school is that the kids can’t even fathom an act like this, which clearly had to have been on purpose…plastic playground equipment doesn’t just catch fire. Anyway, as we were walking back to the car, my son ran into a Discovery Club classmate and I started talking to his father. Inside he had already heard that they’d found an accelerant and knew it was arson, no big surprise. Now I don’t live in the world’s “best” neighborhood, but it’s a fairly quiet, peaceful, working class neighborhood, very low crime, we seem to have someone steal something from our garage every 3 years (just happened last week again), but it’s usually petty, that and the convenience store on the corner gets knocked over every couple years or so, but that’s about it. Not bad for in the heart of a major city really, I certainly don’t feel unsafe outside at night by any means, there’s no real drug or gang activity, and the school seems to be a very safe school. So, the kids are basically all confused and positively devastated by this. The news reports just finally hit the 10pm broadcasts last night…here are a few of them:
The NBC affiliate doesn’t even have a video and spelled the Principal’s name wrong. Our local newspaper’s story was riddled with inaccuracies and the local free press tried to get all artistic with the story, obliterating what the fire means to the students and using it to forward a theory about school rivalry which is patently ridiculous when you’re talking about grade-schoolers who don’t even have a competitive sports program. And I also get the impression from reading multiple stories that the damage was $35k, and the entire cost of the structure is $70k and a lot of the news outlets around here are puffing up the cost by adding the two together and saying it’s $105k. Apparently the school has a $250k insurance deductible though, so whether this is $35k in damage (the lowest estimate I came across) or $170k (the highest estimate I came across), this is going to be tough for a relatively small school in this economy to come by. I don’t know what the PTA has come up with for fundraisers, if there will be any attempts to get the kids who did this to pay restitution, etc., but I know it would certainly be nice to get this fixed sooner rather than later. The Principal has said that fixing it is not an “if” it’s a “when”, and I can tell you, that is a very huge thing to the kids at this school…they don’t understand why anyone would do this, and now they’ve lost a core part of their recreational equipment and don’t know when they’ll get it back. My son played there all the time, there were always kids he knew there, and that is where they go to recess every day at about 11 am.
So I personally am sad and angry about the whole thing, and I’d love to help. I will certainly volunteer my time to help put up the new equipment when the day comes, but I’ve been unemployed for 7 months, so I can’t really give them any money, but I will in a heartbeat if I get back to work. So, what I’d doing here is tapping the collective…I thought I’d share this with all of you, because I know there are so many generous, thoughtful, intelligent people on this forum who would be outraged and who would want to help.
So, how can you help if you are inclined to do so? I’d say obviously, you can contact the school at (651) 767–8540 and ask them what you can do. I’m sure they’d take donations, and I’m sure they’d listen to fund-raising suggestions. If you know of any resources that might be able to help them, know of good ways to get publicity, or if you have other networks of people you can tap into to spread this story and see if any of your contacts or their contacts and so on have ways they can help. Heck, maybe someone knows someone who manufactures playground equipment and can get them a deal…who knows what you might come up with?
I guess I’m not asking anyone to do anything they’re not comfortable doing, I fully understand not being in a position to give money to every worthy cause that comes by these days, that’s a given, but I figure I know several hundred people right here, far more than I know in real life. I’m just going to leave you all with the story and put it in your capable hands and even if one person reads this and does something small to help, it will have been worth my time to post this.
Thank you all, if even just for reading.