Sunday, June 16, 2013

Students Aren't the Only Ones Who Pay When a School Closes

Another one bites the dust. Who pays?
I’m grieving. Recently, the board of Albion Public Schools in Michigan approved a measure to lay off its high school teachers and paraprofessionals at the end of the school year. Simultaneously, for budget reasons, plans continue in the direction of city residents losing their high school and busing the institution’s students elsewhere. Among the places is neighboring Marshall, one town over. As this transition continues to unfold, it seems conversation locally and across the region is all but forgetting a couple important groups of folks lost in this lack of adequate funding mess. At the top of the list are teachers.
               While it’s true students must weather the impending transition from one school to another, teachers bear the brunt of this change. They are being cast adrift during a time when finding meaningful work is no easy task. But this is not an attempt to cast blame on decision makers. Nor is it a commentary on what led to this gut-wrenching decision. It is a recognition of something worse.
               It’s a familiar scenario; an entire workplace shut down. This time a high school. An entire workforce summarily dismissed. A community stripped of a significant and (dare it be said) unifying community symbol and in the process, families traumatized by job loss with few prospects for re-employment. Those with the right connections will land on their feet sooner or later. For others the path is less certain.
The road ahead is uncertain...
               Another school closing. (Sigh.) This time Albion High School. Home of the Wildcats. What must this feel like to alumni and longtime residents of Albion? What must the wrenching of a venerable institution like a high school do to the spirit of residents in a place? What type of psychological hit is taken among long time locals by so dramatic an event?
               But the city is not dead. It’s not all doom and gloom. The community will survive, even if one of its most important centers of influence does not. Some might think closure of a school consisting of some 150 students and 15 or so teachers is no big deal in the relative scheme of things. Maybe. Then again, losing a place where over the years thousands of young people cut their teeth on memories that can last a lifetime is nothing to sneeze at. If the folks in Albion are anything like me, they’re no doubt lamenting the passing of a place with a storied history; one that holds a legacy of graduating mothers, fathers, doctors and lawyers, machinists and farmers; proud persons of any number of vocations – made possible through the benefits of obtaining an education at this particular high school.
Our youth must and will prevail.
               Yet this is no sappy, sentimental commentary. Rather, it’s a respectful shout out to the people of Albion and the lifting up of a place close to the hearts of graduates everywhere. It’s about remembering teachers, coaches, administrators, janitors and fellow students in a place where standing ovations, spirited debates, valedictorian speeches, homecoming courts, fourth quarter touchdowns, walk-off home runs and last second jump shots have buoyed many a heart. It’s about activities and accounts that are forever etched into memory – a history made. It’s about the pride of being a part of something that runs deeper than the size of your wallet or location of your home or model of car you drive. It’s about kids. Yours, mine and ours. And about the people who mold them.
               The path for Albion High School students and their parents may be rocky but so is the future for its teachers. Let’s not lose focus on that, even as we all move forward.

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