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Back to School: A History Lesson and a Song

My daughter just started first grade at Lapham Elementary School. I am usually the one to walk her down the street for the 7:45 morning bell. We descend on the classic brick school building as part of a gentle flutter of activity, a scene involving bicyclists, pedestrians, dogs, strollers, and curb-side drop-offs. The buses empty kids into the playground. 

Often, after my daughter is inside and her day has begun, I am still standing outside on the sidewalk deep in conversation with neighbors and other parents. This morning meeting is a nice way to start the day. I've found my cohort to be impressively engaged in the community, particularly the school community, and I learn a lot from them. 

The collective consciousness remembers that Lapham Elementary was once closed down due to lack of attendance. For me, this somewhat recent history has felt vague. 

My internet searches to sleuth out these dates led me repeatedly into the well-organized and easily accessible TLNA Newsletter archives. Volume 1, Number 1 of "Tenney/Lapham News" was published in September 1976. Exactly forty years later, I am humbled by the history in those pages, and by the neighborly care, concern, and commitment expressed by the writers over the years. 

Lapham Elementary School was closed for a decade, from 1979 to 1989. Today Lapham is part-one of the elementary school experience for neighborhood kids. After 2nd grade, kids attend Marquette Elementary on Jenifer Street, which is conveniently where they continue for 6-8 grades at the attached O'Keefe Middle School. In 2007, there was a highly controversial consolidation plan that would have closed Marquette (and moved all those kids into the Lapham building), but the plan was not passed.

Last week, on my way to a potluck, I stopped in to Cork and Bottle on East Johnson Street for a wine recommendation. Jim Wright, the owner, was behind the counter with his brother, as I expected he would be. I was glad for the chance to thank him for a generous gift Cork and Bottle recently made to Lapham Elementary. 

The local liquor shop consistently supports the school. Two years ago, I got to know Jim and former C&B owner Teena Browder as we worked together to migrate the annual neighborhood party to nearby Reynolds Park. For years, the Block Party was organized and hosted by Cork and Bottle. Any donations made by those enjoying free beer and home-made potato salad were given directly to Lapham. I don't know when that Block Party started....I'll have to ask Jim next time I see him.

The Block Party at Reynolds Park took place in June 2016, following up from the first one in 2015. We have been explicit about raising money for the school with this new version of the block party, along with funding special projects in our neighborhood parks (Reynolds, Tenney, and James Madison Parks and the Yahara River Parkway).

If you don't have kids in school, you may think that Cork and Bottle is the heart of the neighborhood. Jim remembers the years when Lapham Elementary School was closed, and he remembers how the neighborhood felt during those years. He says it was depressing. He feels strongly that the school is the heart of this neighborhood. Now that my daughter is a student, I now know what he means. 

Located in a highly urban neighborhood with around 30% home-owner-occupancy, the school feels to me like a space where students and parents feel a connection to place. When I was a new parent, I was told by other parents that Lapham was 'a good school.' A year in, I understand that to mean, at least in this case, that it is an active and highly-engaged school community.  A 'good' elementary school in the United States in 2016 is probably, generally speaking, a school where parents get to know each other and the school culture is one where parents' ideas are heard and respected. That is what I've found at Lapham. 

The year my daughter started school, the kindergarten classes were just at capacity. This year, enrollment has increased enough that there is an additional - a fourth - kindergarten class. With 1,000 new dwellings expected in the area in the next year, the "good' school will probably be part of the draw for these new residents.  

Happily there are still lots of neighbors, like Jim Wright and Teena Browder, who know the history of the area and feel a connection with the school. The principal, Tammy Thompson Kapp, recently told me a story: She was out for dinner at Pasquals. When the waiter learned she was the principal at Lapham, he burst into song:

Three cheers for Lapham 
Three cheers for Lapham 
Three cheers for Lapham 
The school for me
Our school is really cool
It even has a pool
Now here’s our pledge of loyalty
About school spirit
You’ll see and hear it
Shout it til the rafters ring
Ding Ding Ding
Three cheers for Lapham Lapham Lapham School
Oh Lapham
To thee I sing

My four-year-old already knows the words. 

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