The last day of school is saturated with a myriad of emotional. More often than not, children start the day effervescing with excitement. It's infectious. Later, usually the older kids, especially those being promoted to middle school may begin to realize a sense of loss. Usually by the time the bell rings, laughter has been shared to lighten a teary yet much anticipated ending.
However, when a school is closing its doors, its the realization of a loss so profound it mimics death. In fact it is just that, but to much a larger degree because so many feel the immediate loss. Many people will read this and think, kids survive, they will be okay. Some will do just that. However many others may not and that outcome depends specifically on the type of school, the students served, and the level of service provided. I don't mean the teachers necessarily. Although that could be included in the scenario. If a school successfully serves the Title One population then odds are it has become a true community center. In my experience that is usually the case, but admittedly my experience is limited to just that, a predominately Title One School that became a community center. A school that served as a sanctuary for many Latino families who have sacrificed greatly to have their children educated in this particular community. Clearly that fact has not won the them the acknowledgment let alone respect of the greater community and district. So yes for this community to lose this safe haven and highly successful support system is a not only a death felt by hundreds. It results in the formation of a new perspective, that of the cultural and educational refugee.
Personally, the worst part of it is the process. The fact that, although for us in particular, it was a sudden decision, realistically time moves on and there are moments that allow you to forget the future. Moments in which you catch yourself planning for next year. A lull occurs that hypnotizes you into missing the obvious. You ignore the virtual labyrinth of boxes that emerge like weeds in a well established garden. You turn a blind eye to the random people visiting, especially the reporters. However I did notice that our school got more press coverage this year than it has in its entire existence. We play with the kids and somehow in the course of the day tend to misplace the feeling of dread. We live for the surreal moments of fictional faith and perceived possibility. All the while, like a dingo in the bushes, reality stalks us.
We all experienced random moments of realization. Often they were inspired by a gut wrenching "next step in the process." Whether it was the the students being placed at schools, many unsatisfactorily, or when the teachers were placed at future sites. In those moments the water works run on like faulty sprinklers that could not be contained. In the final weeks these moments simply start to run together. We hold the children as they cry, embrace the parents as they cry, and comfort each other as we slowly begin to unravel. And so it continues....
The last day moves you in a way that is only rivaled by the slam of the gavel after the board votes for closure. We did our best to distract the kids and parents, but at some point the gravity of this day would have to sink in. When it did words were simply not enough to console the devastated families, and I swear I could hear the hearts breaking. As the day slows for those final moments the weight falls down on you like a ton of feathers, soft and suffocating. Gone are the days of teacher gifts from 7-11 or hand me down ornaments. Families present you with a literal bed of flowers to express their love and appreciation. If you're lucky you may have the composure to whisper a thank you as you embrace them. Then they are gone, and a blanket of silence covers the school. I couldn't stand the weight of it, so I grabbed a basketball and shot a few hoops to get some distance. Somehow it slowed down time for me, and stretched those few minutes out long enough to help me compose myself. Standing back, away from it, I could feel the heart beat of this vibrant community center slowing. The echoes began to quiet. There aren't enough deep breaths that can prepare you for the next step. It was then that I realized that the hardest part would just be taking breaths to stay. To stay in every moment and let it suck you up because this place, these people, have earned the right to take as long as they need to let go. Emptiness spreads through the school like a plague, physically and emotionally.We have nothing to give any longer, because we now know that none of the assurances are real. Already they have interacted at their new schools and experienced what the world is like without this school as a resource. Already English forms have been tossed at them like bingo cards, and we will not be there any longer to help them. The anger and frustration builds inside a person as they fully understand what has been lost. Yet, this is only the beginning of the changes they will have to endure. For us, we stand by and watch. Its like watching amazingly powerful birds of prey attempt to take flight with wings of lead. Right now they are trying, and I pray they'll never give up.