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dalepetrie's avatar

I'm looking for ideas/advice on how to help my son's school recover from a costly act of vandalism?

Asked by dalepetrie (18009points) September 18th, 2009

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:

Local Fox Affiliate

Local ABC Affiliate

Local CBS Affiliate

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.

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19 Answers

teh_kvlt_liberal's avatar

Track down the punk who did it and bring him a beatdown!

dalepetrie's avatar

@teh_kvlt_liberal – well, that part’s a given, though I might get arrested if I beat up two boys between the ages of 8 and 12, and I certainly wouldn’t forward the peace message the school is looking to purvey. They said when they do catch them, they’re going to make them come into the classrooms and speak to the kids, that oughta be nice and humiliating (and who knows, a few of the kids might decide to get their own retribution).

teh_kvlt_liberal's avatar

Oh I thought they were like teenagers

rebbel's avatar

Ah, you were saving your words for this. Rightly so.
First off, that sucks.
Second off, that sounds like a school that i would want to bring my (future-) child to (would have liked it for myself too, by the way).

As for the damaged/destroyed plaything: I am working (in the Netherlands) in a small factory that is fully run by and through volunteers.
We make furniture and playthings for kindergarten, primary- and secundary schools (and some private customers) from wood.
Since we are (partly) supported/funded by the city-counsil we can work cheap(-ish) and i’m sure, were we faced with a matter like the one you described here, we would jump in and help out where we could.
Obviously my working in Holland doesn’t help you (r child’s school) much, but there might be a similar factory/project in your neighbourhood or city where you could ask for ideas and/or help?
Good luck with it!

Beta_Orionis's avatar

I too would try contacting local businesses for help, and maybe try explaining the school peace ideology, how shaken your son was, etc. so they get a more personal viewpoint that the stories run by the media.

dalepetrie's avatar

@Beta_Orionis – I suspect the school is on this, but I may try to see if they have a list of whom they’ve already contacted and see if they want me to solicit any other businesses. I know that when they do hold fundraisers like an annual picnic, a silent auction, etc. which we go to every year, there are always a fair number of donations from local businesses. I think they are pretty well known in the community and I’m sure they’ll have some pretty good targeted resources in this area. I’m trying at this point to somewhat think outside the box.

@rebbel – two questions. One is, is your organization involved in any sort of professional societies of similar craftspeople, something wherein you might within your existing network know of a company closer to me who might be able to do something, if even just bid on restoration? Two is, if not, how would a person such as myself go about seeking out a company such as yours. Say for example, I lived in Holland and I wanted to know about a company exactly like yours, but had no idea who you were, what you were called or how to find you, how would I go about trying to seek out something of this nature…any suggestions there?

Thanks all, it’s gotten me thinking anyway.

rebbel's avatar

@dalepetrie Your first question: no, i’m pretty sure we aren’t.
The second question: if i would search for it myself i would use the terms volunteers/voluntary jobs (from the Dutch; vrijwilligerswerk) and/or non-profit organisations.
Volunteers jobs, not so much to look for a job, but to get an idea of what kind of businesses are around.
I found this (where you can search by state and alphabeticaly).
Hope it helps.

dalepetrie's avatar

@rebbel – yes, thanks, I’ll follow up on that.

holden's avatar

Arson has been a recurrent problem at my brother’s elementary school a few blocks down the street. Each time the equipment was replaced with new and better playground equipment, and each our already underbudgeted school system wasted thousands of dollars in the expense. It’s completely asinine and always upsetting for the kids, who are the primary victims of the crime.

My suggestion is to organise a volunteer fundraiser like a bake sale. Maybe you can talk to the school’s principal or superintendent and get permission to hold it on campus during a weekend or after school. If you have a community newsletter put out an announcement and pass out flyers to your neighbors or other parents who are willing and able to contribute. Get the kids in on it too; it could be a lot of fun for them and rewarding for them to know that they’re helping out their school. You can also do a raffle for prizes and have games.

Darwin's avatar

Our small Montessori school needed new play equipment (because what they had was old and unsafe, not because of vandalism). They held several fund raising auctions with items either made by the students or donated by families or friends of families. They also had several massive school-wide rummage sales, they worked on getting in-kind donations from local companies, applied for some grants from our city’s neighborhood improvement program, and talked to the local Boy Scout Council and got several scouts to do their Eagle projects at the school. We also had a series of parent work days where parents supplied the muscle to erect the play equipment.

One of my jobs was to get the landscaping redone. I got some folks from the Master Gardener Program involved and got some plants donated by several local nurseries and private plant collectors. Some parents and I dug the holes and actually did the planting and some of the initial watering. Once everything was done, the upper elementary kids did the maintenance watering.

See if you can help the school turn it into a community event. Good luck!

YARNLADY's avatar

A school Fair, expecially with Halloween coming, with a costume contest and such. There are many websites that can tell you how to conduct a school fair.

Dr_C's avatar

There are a lot of fund-raising activities geared toward schools… evderything from book-fairs to chocolate bar sales.. (contact See’s candies and Scholastic publishers).

hearkat's avatar

Are there any big businesses/corporations in your area that you could contact to see if they would donate? Where do you live?

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Perhaps you could recover part of the expense from the boy’s parents? I wonder if this would come under the umbrella portion of homeowner’s insurance?

dalepetrie's avatar

The school already works with Scholastic several times a year, and they have good relationships with local businesses (I live in St. Paul, MN) I said, I think the school is well tapped into the normal fund-raising avenues. I’d certainly hope they could sue the parents if and when they catch the boys.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

You might want to check into an organization like Kaboom! and see what options are available through there. This is a private school, correct? Is the playground accessible for community use?

dalepetrie's avatar

@PandoraBoxx – no, it’s a public school, and yes the playground it accessible to anyone. I’ll check out Kaboom! Thanks.

hartest's avatar

Hey, you could try some of the online fundraising websites like, etc.
or maybe a kick-starter campaign or indie-gogo something along those lines might work. I know there are sites where you can create an online site for people to donate to. Also if you contact local radio stations they may be able to help advertise the need for new equipment etc. There is a radio show here in Ireland on Fridays that does something along the lines of Fix it Ray where they help organize either free stuff / donations/ things people are looking for so might be worth a shot to try them to, I’m sure you can get some support and help from the local community. Maybe even a local out of work joiner/ carpenter might be able to help if you can get some one to supply the materials for free etc.
Hope that might be able to help.

dalepetrie's avatar

@hartest – should anything happen again I will remember this. As for the school, they did several fundraising events, got some funding from a state program and used parent volunteers to re-assemble the new equipment, it’s been up and running for quite some time now. Thanks again to everyone.

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