Neighborhoods should not be sold separately
I can remember going over to the King’s house, which was on the same block as my school and a block before my house, to get the best flavor ‘frozen cup’. Sometimes, I would venture a block past my house if I had a taste for the Rankin’s frozen cups, which were just as good and they even offered different flavors and a variety of snacks. On my way home, I remember seeing young ladies from Xavier Prep High School, which represented the next level of excellence for a child to achieve. I remember the Kindergarten building on the corner, that gave a foundation to so many children in my neighborhood. Mr. Shannon, Mr Lewis and Mr. Britto, working family men, just to name a few, who would often be outside as I walked to school. They would be preparing for work, wiping morning dew off of a fogged up windshield, watching their own children or grandchildren as they were off to school or to the bus stop. I remember Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Gilyot, who represented a strong maternal presence in our community and I can remember always getting a delightful series of greetings and well wishes long before I reached the perimeter of my school. Most children were coming out of their houses on point, because they were representing their family and if something happened to find its way out of place, you best believe a concerned neighbor would address it and make sure that all was well taken care of before you went on your way.
The concept of “neighborhood” or “community” schools is one that has had many proponents since New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Neighborhood and community schools have been the subject of conversations nationwide as well as locally for many years and I don’t foresee that conversation ending. I could quote many definitions I have found for both neighborhood and community schools, but besides being very biased, I believe most of them miss the point terribly.
When I think of schools, I think of an aspect of a neighborhood or community that can make or break them. I see the same thing on the flipside, as a neighborhood or community can offer success to a school through an amazing relationship. Power lies with the people. My childhood neighborhood was a reflection of its people’s values, morals, character and upbringing. Today, neighborhoods are a product of accessibility, economics, fear and many times exclusion. This often kills any dream of neighborhood schools.
There is no possible way to have neighborhood or community schools anymore, because oftentimes, we don’t have neighborhoods or communities anymore. Sure, we have swanky names for areas in our cities that get there place on Google Maps or local redistricting maps, but we don’t have true neighborhoods or communities.
It seems like we no longer have blocks that connect together in a spirit of togetherness, commonality and inclusion. We don’t have people that speak to their neighbor as second nature. Helping someone out isn’t usually high on our to-do lists anymore and the hustle and bustle of life has rendered us blind to our own needs, let alone the needs of a child walking up the block to school. Knowing a little something about neighbors is not a desire of citizens anymore. We don’t care that the pure unsolicited delivery of a salutation not only gives life, but does it in such a universal way that it invigorates our own day. There has to be a desire to volunteer at the school up the block or around the corner, even if you only have neighborhood ties to the school.
The fact is that successful schools, families and students of neighborhood schools come from neighborhoods made up of great neighbors. Successful community schools come from communities that are dwelling places of wonderful and caring people. There is no way to revive and set in motion any form of neighborhood or community schools unless there is a commitment from the citizens of those neighborhoods and communities. We cannot have neighborhood schools until the neighborhood is involved with them once again.