Dan Lawlor: Doesn’t Anyone Care About Gilbert Stuart Middle School?
Friday, June 08, 2012
"This building is dedicated to the highest welfare of the youth of the community and to the promotion of worthy citizenship."
Whether you are a homeless girl at Crossroads, or the daughter of an "I know somebody" politician, your local public school should not be moldy, asbestos ridden, have a leaky roof, peeling paint, and exit doors covered by scaffolding to prevent bricks from hitting you and your classmates as you walk out.
In this state, sad to say, where you live will greatly impact what your school looks like.
Go for a drive. Head down Elmwood Ave. in Providence. At a certain point, you will find yourself near a church, the Socio-Economic Development Center for South East Asians, the delightful Apsara Restaurant, the Knight Memorial Library, a Love 4 All Daycare Center, and rising above them all, a light-brown, brick monolith: Gilbert Stuart Middle School.
GSMS holds a special place in my heart, it's where my first job was. I believe, deeply, in its potential.
I am infuriated that the building has been allowed to deteriorate to its present state, to the misfortune of student, staff, family, and after school providers. Back in March, I wrote, "From decrepit sidewalks, poor landscaping, and a crumbling parking lot, Gilbert Stuart is a city service that is not invested in anywhere at the level it should be." Sadly, that's still true.
Can't the city be inventive? Gilbert Stuart (along with Roger Williams Middle School off Thurbers Ave.) was constructed during the city's industrial heyday. They are monumental buildings that are testaments to the dreams of the builders of the public education system. Case in point: Inside Stuart's entryway, you can find plaques commemorating soldiers from the World Wars, a memorial to Abraham Lincoln, and a beautiful, neglected, entrance to the auditorium. Gilbert Stuart's dedication plaque reads, "This building is dedicated to the highest welfare of the youth of the community and to the promotion of worthy citizenship."
Brown, Gamm, Perishable Theater, Big Nazo or Trinity Rep could have a field day in the auditoriums of Stuart or Williams. With some renovation and upkeep, the city could easily rent out the space to community theater groups or other agencies hosting events. Fundraisers could be held there, the Preservation Society could give tours - these buildings are treasures that our political leaders have wilfully allowed to crumble.
Here's the real tragedy - what enrages me most, even more than the disrespect to our heritage, is the disrespect to our children.
Some children matter more in the city than other ones. Clearly. Objectively. Look at the spaces they are educated in.
Here's another kicker - it's not just working class schools in Providence that are falling apart. Look in South County, at working class schools in North Kingston.
The Independent recently did a series on the challenges at Suzanne M Henseler Quidnessett Elementary School. Teachers testified before the school board, stating: "Damp rugs, soggy books and wet clothing and backpacks are among the problems being caused by persistent leaks," "[The leaks are] a health and safety risk and it really needs more attention than it is getting," “There is a problem at Quidnessett Elementary School and everybody knows about it but nobody is doing a thing.” It may or may not surprise you to find out 52% of the children at Quidnessett qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
The state needs to stop neglecting its duty to oversee and ensure a fair schooling experience to all children. It's not fair that some children have leaky, mold-infested, pipe-bursting public school buildings, while others, miles away, don't.
You know it's not right. I know it's not right. Heck, there is a possibility Travis Rowley and I agree it's not right.
What is our Governor and our General Assembly leaders going to do about this? "I feel bad about it" is not a useful answer. NOTHING is not a useful action. I am tired of watching these building fall to the ground. I am tired of adults deciding that some children matter more than others. From South Providence to South County, this must stop. The real Category 5 Hurricane in our community will come when we realize how many children, families, and faculty we've failed.
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