Friday, October 10, 2014

Missing Pieces

I was startled to read this article yesterday, which presents, in my opinion, an incomplete and narrow view of what Oakland Mills is all about. You may recall that Bill McCormack was the member of the Village Board who was unable to answer my questions about what their definition for "reinventing" Oakland Mills was, or what body of evidence they were using to justify their actions.

As a resident and former Board member in Oakland Mills, I'd like to ask you to look further than one newspaper article to understand what is really at stake here. I highly recommend the following two blog posts by Oakland Mills resident Heather Kirk-Davidoff.

"Stop Bombing, Start Building"

"Who's Not Here?"

In conclusion, I'd like to share the Facebook post from Oakland Mills resident Ian Kennedy.

This has been bugging me all day. (Referring to the Baltimore Sun article.)

Because words matter, right? And there are a lot of words in there that are divisive and, arguably, de-humanizing.

But beyond that, there's no way I can speak substantively about this article or this effort in a clear-headed way right now. While I've been following this discussion, seeing it all in print has re-opened some of the scars from last year. When scars open, I can't help myself; I have to say something.

So this is what I want to say: In the seven weeks that I've been the father of a kindergartner at Stevens Forest Elementary School—home, as you may have heard, to the highest concentration of students receiving free and reduced meals in the county—I have never felt more fortunate to live in this neighborhood.

Every day I get to walk my daughter to school and watch her bound through the doors for another day of adventures. Along the way, we see friendly and increasingly familiar faces, especially once we get close to the school’s doors.

The first few weeks, however, were tough, especially when it was time to say goodbye. We cried, we drew hearts on our hands, we hugged extra-long by the flag pole, and we waited for a friendly teacher to take her hand and reassure her (and us) that school was going to be awesome.

And it has been.

As the weeks passed and my daughter, to no one’s surprise, made lots of friends, the teachers' hands were replaced with the hands of classmates. Now, as we approach the school each day, she scans the grounds looking for a friend. She almost always finds one, or they find her, and the separation from me and my wife is quick and decisive as she runs to her friend, arms outstretched for a hug. Because she's a hugger, OK?

I know some of her friends and their parents, but most I do not, yet. I don't know if they live in single family homes or apartments; if they're renters or owners; if they're rich or poor; or if they're good or bad parents.

Actually, that's not true. I know they're good parents, or at least trying as hard as anyone, because at some point, they made a decision to raise their family in this community and send their kids to these schools. Whatever their circumstances, each of these parents is giving their kids the best chance to succeed in life by sending them to a school as supportive, nurturing, and welcoming as SFES in a community as rich with opportunity as ours.

Sure, some of the kids at our school don't look like kids in other schools in other parts of the county; some of them come from homes where different languages are spoken; some of them need help with food and clothes and school supplies; some of their parents struggle in ways most of us can’t comprehend; some of their parents drive fancy cars; some of their parents ride beater bicycles; some of them like big dogs; some are scared of big dogs; some of them say bad words; some tell on those who say bad words; some of them are happy; some are trying hard to be; some can read; some cannot; some of them have nannies at home; some have Nanas.

But every morning they all walk through the same doors into the same school where, in the words of our PTA, "everyone fits."

And that’s what matters to me — that all of these kids are nice to each other and find a way to get along, regardless of circumstance. Because while we may not look exactly like the Columbia that was envisioned in the 1960s, we look like America in 2014, and what they learn from each other is as valuable as what they'll learn from teachers and books.

So while high test scores, overabundant G/T classes, fancy college placements, and low FARM rates may lead to higher property values, I’d trade all of it for my kids to learn kindness, empathy, compassion, and how to keep open minds, open hearts, and open arms to embrace everyone they meet.

And that's what Oakland Mills is all about, Charlie Brown.


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