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Testimony of María Helena Carey — DC Public Schools Parent — Committee on Education Budget Hearing — April 27, 2017

Good morning. My name is María Helena Carey and I am a Ward 6, Capitol Hill resident and mother to two students at School Within School at Goding: Patrick, in 5th grade and Brandon in 2nd grade. This is Patrick’s last year at SWS: He is part of the school’s first 5th grade class.

Neither of my children will be an SWS student by the time the Mayor’s proposed plan allows for a school modernization, as construction would begin in 2023 at the earliest.

That’s how it goes when you grow up in a city where kids’ well-being and the need to have an adequate school environment is secondary to the District’s other priorities. Even as public school enrollment is up and the District has a budget surplus, our children are being forced to wait for basic repairs, such as doors that lock properly, sprinklers, or an HVAC system that regulates indoor temperature instead of emphasizing it.

Ever since SWS moved to the former Prospect Learning Center in 2013, we have been given a timeline for repairs that is pushed farther and farther out into the future.

It’s okay, we’ve been told: We are so lucky to have a school building! It’s true: We could still be working out of the portable classrooms annexed to Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, where our quarters were so cramped that our school came to be known as “School With Sickness.” (And where, as we’ve learned, our school population was also possibly exposed to unsafe lead levels.)

We are so lucky to have a supportive parent population! So what if the rats ate the children’s snacks or if sewage backed up into a drinking fountain in the cafeteria? Maybe these will be hilarious stories to tell someday. Maybe we should tweet about it and see if we can at least shame the city government into some sort of stop-gap action: it seems that desperate acts of levity, like taking a picture of a child standing inside a massive sinkhole is a way to break the torpor of our agencies.

It’s not funny in the long run, however. It’s not funny to have to create a Twitter account for an inanimate object –an elevator that, until it began complaining and getting regularly maintained by DGS, couldn’t quite call itself ADA-compliant. It’s not funny to have the elevator’s running gag be a jeremiad of everything that is wrong with our building. It’s even less funny to know that once the elevator complains enough times, things like air conditioning units magically appear– units that should have been installed at the beginning of last summer’s vacation.

And every year, the to-do list grows longer, as it does for a structure built in 1959.

One of my favorite things about SWS is that, despite our aging building and the uncomfortable situations our children have had to endure, there is a happy can-do attitude in the school and staff that spills over onto our kids. These remarkable teachers and support personnel tackle problems and hassles big and small and teach our children not just their ABCs, but also how to see the best in all situations and believe in the good of people. Our staff gives their all for our kids: it’s about time the government did right by all of us.

Spend our money in the future of DC, and in the present as well.

Fix all our schools.

Support our teachers.

Do right by our communities.

Do what’s right.

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