Not so very long ago, the nondescript, one-story elementary school on Marlow Avenue in the south section of Oak Park was vacant, its floors rotting, its windows broken. For about five years it sat, a target of vandals, a reminder of what was.
Now, the windows have been repaired, the floors fixed, the classes filled with students. On Wednesday, there was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the front entrance of the new school called Frederick Douglass International Academy, replete with speeches, politicians, alumni from decades ago and children and the principal reciting quotes from Frederick Douglass.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Principal Rashid Faisal said during his speech, quoting from Frederick Douglass.
I don’t normally attend ribbon cutting ceremonies for charter schools. But this one was different. A friend, Mark Jacobs, who heads up the alumni group for the school, invited me. In the 1960s, we were students there when it was John Dewey Elementary School. Some of the more notable alum include Don Was (Fagenson) of the band Was (Not Was), who has produced albums for such talents as the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
It was thrilling to see the school I walked the halls of decades ago come alive again, full of enthusiasm. I went there from kindergarten through second grade before Oak Park redrew boundaries and sent us to a new school nearby, Einstein Elementary.
The new school opened after Labor Day. Principal Faisal, a friendly guy with a bow-tie, told me that about 70 kids, pre-K through sixth grade attend the school, which is being run by a nonprofit group, the Hanley Harper Group. He hopes that number grows to 150 by year’s end, and eventually, 350.
Admittedly, while the visit was great, it was also a little surreal, particularly when I dropped by my old kindergarten class that was not yet occupied.
Everything looked the same. I had flashbacks: The thumping sound of chocolate milk dropping in the milk machine after depositing a nickel. I turned to a friend, Michael Lazar, who also attended Dewey and came for the ribbon cutting and said: “Why did some of the kids drink white milk when they could have had chocolate milk?” After all, who didn’t like chocolate milk?
I remember being a tall kid with a brush cut and buck teeth, who was very quiet and introverted in class. And I remember the teacher, Mrs. Mallard, not caring for me too much and yelling at me after I told a joke two days in a row during show-and-tell (today’s equivalent of Facebook).
The first day, the joke went like this: “What did the big chimney say to the little chimney?”
“What?” the teacher asked.
“You’re too young to smoke,” I said. I got a laugh from the class. It was more amusing than the girl who brought a dress from Hudson’s for show-and-tell or the kid who insisted on sharing details about his family’s visit to Kentucky Fried Chicken the night before.
The second day, I really didn’t have a joke, but I was on a roll. I had to deliver. So I kept looking around the class, trying to think of something. When it came my turn, I told the teacher I had another joke.
“What did the big flag say to the little flag?” I asked.
“What?” she replied.
“You’re too young to wave,” I said. There was a moment of dead silence. I should have said, “Excuse me, is this microphone working?”
She started yelling:
“Allan, if you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”
That sort of ended my show-and-tell career. Things got better after kindergarten.
All that being said, the halls of old Dewey school are alive again with kids giggling and teachers teaching. The school looked great. Hopefully, the kids’ jokes have improved since my day.
The Principal said the goal of the school is to prepare kids for college. By high school he said, sometimes it’s too late.
It may not be called Dewey anymore.
But the school is proof that the seeds of education planted decades ago still grow on that rich soil once known as Dewey.
As for me, hopefully my delivery for jokes has improved.
Those interested in helping the school can write Mark Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Deadline Detroit