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Four Things I've Learned about Lapham Elementary School
Four months ago we took a leap of faith. We started waking our oldest daughter up before she is ready, prescribed a morning routine despite her preference for lounging, distraction, and play, and committed to leaving her with her peers for seven hours a day, five days a week. I challenged myself to keep the refrigerator sufficiently stocked so that I can pack her daily lunch, and to keep my concerns about the state of the public school system to myself.

My husband reminds me how lucky we are to live a block from a school that is at the heart of this neighborhood and community. He reminds me that we owe it to ourselves and our kids to be part of this school community, or at least not to bail out before we've given it a fair trial.

From the get-go we were lucky: so many of the faces of the kids and parents were familiar. The cohort of kids from my daughter's classes at Tenney Nursery and Parent Center are now with her in school. This means I see many of my neighbors and fellow parents daily, sometimes twice a day. That sense of belonging to the place that I used to feel a few times a year, when I went to Lapham to vote, I now feel nearly every morning. I've had other insights, as well.

Top four insights as a new parent of a Lapham Kindergartner

    1. Even though we live a block from the elementary school, my daughter may not walk to or from school by herself. There two reasons for this: She must be released to a guardian and there are no crossing guards. The principal told me that when she started at Lapham, she was surprised there were no crossing guards, so she inquired. She passed along what she learned: 

    "Crossing guards are provided based on requests from the schools and studies to see of the locations meet the criteria established by the city for assigning Adult School Crossing Guards. The Adult School Crossing Guard (ASCG) program is staffed, supervised and funded in the Police Department. If the hazard rating is  at least 40 points,  and there are at least 15 students (for a K-2 only school) using the crossing, then staff will recommend to the PBMVC that an ASCG be assigned to the crossing." 

    Lapham was closed in the 1970s and reopened in the early 1990s. Before closing, Lapham was a 'normal' neighborhood elementary school that went from Kindergarten through fifth grade. There were crossing guards on Johnson and Gorham at Ingersoll. Arthur Ross, the City's Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator who provided the information above, couldn't remember for sure, but said he thinks those were the only ones. Lapham reopened in the early 1990s as a K-2 school. In response to parents' concerns, the district agreed to provide bus transportation for the students. This fit the trend throughout the country away from 'active transportation' and the normalcy of walking to school. Just 10% of kids in the country walk to school today, according to this awesome little 2 minute video "Why don't kids walk to school anymore?" from The Atlantic. 

    *NOTE added September 2017: There are more and more kids arriving to school on wheels--bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc. There is a Facebook group for people interested in improving the safety of the neighborhood streets around the school and encouraging more self-propelled transportation. The group is called Lapham Neighbors and Families for Safe Streets. Contact the administrator to join.

    2. The teachers and principals want to say Yes. I have some understanding and a lot of empathy for the challenges of teaching in and directing a public school. I know there is a bureaucracy that necessarily constrains the teachers, staff and principal, and that this can cause disheartening levels of exhaustion and frustration. 

    All that being true, Lapham is a human place where the parents and teachers and principal are in conversation and responsive. For example, last year parents were concerned because students were not eating their lunch for various reasons: they ate with their coats on, rushed to get to recess, and didn't have nearly enough time for everything. So this school year, in response to concerns, the lunch period has been extended and students leave coats in lockers instead of managing gear and food together. 

    Another example: At the very first of the Parent-Teacher-Group (PTG) meetings, I mentioned my own wish that second-language instruction could start earlier than is typical (7th grade) and wondered what kind of second-language opportunities Lapham could offer. I got an email from the principal following up with me literally the next day. She had spoken with my daughter's teacher and the Bilingual Resource Specialist (a paid staff member who works with Spanish-speaking students and families) to propose an experiment. Now several times a week, a small group of kindergartners are getting some second-language instruction. 

    *NOTE added September 2017: The 2017-2018 school year will be the third consecutive year that Creando Little Language Explorers will be offering an after-school class one day a week for Spanish immersion. Students can start in Kindergarten. This after-school option does cost money, but it has been well received by families. Some semesters they have two full classrooms.

    3. The Parent Teacher Group foots the bills. The PTG is essentially making up the slack for school budget cuts. The PTG meets monthly and is open to anyone. The PTG is for parents of both Lapham and Marquette, the school where kids continue for grades 3-5. The PTG has large fundraising goals and pays for things that I assumed were part of school. The PTG pays for the Lapham Outdoor Classroom and Community Garden, for example, which is integrated into the curriculum for every grade. 

    Last year, the PTG started giving grants to teachers. The teachers have requested grant money for books, field trips, band uniforms, supplies, etc. There are more requests than there is money. The requests are small, but again, this money is raised through fundraisers like the bake sale held during election. Elections are held in the school auditorium and it is the only time when neighbors without kids at the school walk through the doors and have the opportunity to give money to the school. 

    I know that many neighbors and businesses are very concerned about the school and want to give. Cork and Bottle beer and wine shop on East Johnson has always donated the money they make at their annual block party to the school. This past summer, The Party in the Park raised a lot of money for Lapham thanks to the generosity of the neighborhood and Cork and Bottle. I see now, as a parent, how important this outside support is. 

    *NOTE added September 2017: The 2017 donation to the school and Parent-Teacher-Group from Party in the Park and the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association is nearly $2,000!

    4. When the bell rings and the school day ends, my daughter wants to climb a tree. There is a perfectly accessible tree next to, but not on, the playground. After school, many kids bee-line for the tree. Backpacks and coats lay strewn on the lawn and sidewalk. Their owners fill the branches of this small tree. I don't get to see how hard my daughter is working all day long, but I can see her progress in that tree. She is getting up the nerve to go higher, swing from new branches, drop from daring heights. I see how she is challenged by, and stepping up, to school life by watching her in the tree. 

    * * * * *

    The tree scene is quaint, charming, and reassuring to me. I can be cynical about and disappointed by the world sometimes, but this is one thing that seems so right: a tree in a school yard that kids like to climb after school. 

    It's no one-room school-house, but Lapham is at the heart of this neighborhood. It seems like you should not have to be a parent, or have a child at the school, to benefit from having a school like Lapham in your midst. 

    How could we make the heartbeat of the school louder, stronger, and more vital for all of the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood? The Neighborhood Plan calls for a community center...but maybe we have one already, we just don't use it to its fullest potential?

    IMAGE CREDIT: The illustration is from a book called "Can You Say Peace" by Karen Katz.

    1 comment:

    1. Yes and yes on the crossing guard and or at least some kind of light or better marked crossing of Ingersol, someone will get hurt!
      The sad truth about funding and the PTG is that the PTG budget is for both Marquette and Lapham and is like $20K and funds all the cool and incredible things you loved about your childhood like field trips. The even sadder thing is that the Okeefe PTG barely clears $5K a year and that is for 3 grades with twice as many students. Do math or just go figure.
      Lunch has been an ongoing battle, glad they are getting more time.

      Lapham is one of the best public schools for small kids in the District. They have a caring and attentive staff which is so much more than you hear about elsewhere. They are short resourced in terms of dollars for things like iPads and I am fine with that. The other excellent factor is the cultural diversity which can't be beat. With no special language classes Louis talks about his Amigas.