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Head's Corner, March 12, 2013
I hope that you enjoyed the weekend. Although the snow day was nice, I am over winter. My husband and son shoveled every ounce of snow in our driveway and walkway on Friday before they caught a non-stop flight to sunny Los Angeles for a long-overdue father-son trip. I wished them a great trip (ten days mind you) and said all the things I should have, “hope you guys have fun”, “make sure you eat a burger from In and Out for me”, think of me while watching the sunset.” I was secretly envious that I wasn’t a.) invited and b.) that I was stuck at home in less than ideal conditions. I thought I could make up for it by stopping by Mrs. Jones on return trip from the airport. Mrs. Jones is my favorite soul food restaurant. I could not get to Dorchester fast enough so that my daughter Sydney and I could order our favorite meal, fried haddock, collard greens and sweet potatoes with a side of black eyed peas. Definitely comfort food.
The ride from Logan to “Dot” (Dorchester) Ave. seemed like an eternity. When I arrived at the restaurant, I saw an elderly gentleman outside shoveling snow. He was hunched over and moving very slowly. He greeted me with a warm smile and then proceeded to tell me in his faint voice that they were closed. He and his wife are the owners of the mom and pop restaurant and had to make a decision to either hire someone to shovel for them, possibly spending more than they would have earned, or do it themselves in preparation for the crowd they would get on Saturday. Once again I said the right thing, “Ok, thanks Mr. Jones, be careful, I’ll see you tomorrow.” I was disappointed that I could not comfort my soul with their help. Instead, I opted for a salad and headed home to an empty and cold house. I bonded with my daughter. We watched Jeopardy and part of the Celtics game. Then I turned to NBC to watch Brian Williams on Rock Center.
As I scarfed down wilted romaine lettuce while secretly sulking, I was struck by the first story of the episode about poverty in the United States. The city they highlighted was Camden, New Jersey. Although it is minutes away from an affluent suburb and literally across the river from the City of Brotherly Love where the economy is booming, Camden is the poorest city in the US. It has one of the highest crime rates; it is filled with dilapidated buildings where squatters and drug addicts dwell, and where children are held hostage in their apartments because their parents fear for their safety. Suddenly I began to feel guilty about making a big deal over things I take for granted and had an “aha moment”. I could hear Alex Trebek in my head: a person who has food, shelter, employment, safety and love Answer: what is privilege? Somehow it didn’t matter that I wasn’t invited on a vacation with my husband or that I couldn’t order the food that I wanted at that moment or that the weather wasn’t what I wanted. Wah wah wah. I was guilty of something that I loathe, and that is being ungrateful. How dare I sulk when the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” just keeps expanding, even right here in Cambridge?
This past weekend was significant for families applying for admissions to independent schools. Cambridge Montessori had an increase of applications from a pool of great families. We had to place deserving students on the wait list in Lower Elementary—we have long yearned to have full enrollment! We also had to deny students whose family’s financial needs were too great for us to meet. These families look no different than you and me. What is happening in our world when we have to make decisions that ultimately have an impact on people’s futures? If education is the key to success, then what happens when we can’t give people access to it? We live in a state that has some of the best public schools, which provides families with an excellent alternative. But what happens when the public schools are deplorable such as the ones in Camden? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Cambridge is not Camden but we too struggle with a widening disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
To bring it even closer to home, Cambridge Montessori was unable to give any new families financial aid. We just do not have the resources. Our current families’ financial needs have also increased and we are committed to meeting their needs as best as we can. Diversity is a value at CMS. We define diversity as pertaining to race, class, sexual orientation and religion. Class is the most difficult to address because no one wants to talk about money and resources or the lack thereof. The crisis in Camden is in our faces. We can ignore it since it doesn’t affect our “world”. However, we cannot ignore the economic crisis in our own back yard. We simply can’t ignore Camden and we simply can’t ignore Cambridge.
Either we are part of the problem or part of the solution. In two weeks Cambridge Montessori will host its Annual Auction. The purpose of the auction is to help raise funds to increase our financial aid budget for deserving students whose financial needs must be met. Currently, 15% of our $5.7 million dollar budget is earmarked for financial aid and it is still not enough. A wise person once said, “ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We aren’t going to solve poverty by hosting the auction, but we are at least acknowledging that we have a problem and that is the first step. We can all close our eyes and pretend poverty doesn’t exist. We can choose to retreat in the comfort of our own homes, eat whatever food we like, take our children to nearby parks or let them run loose in the privacy of our back yards and not give poverty a second thought. However, whether you can handle the truth or not, we are not immune from the effects.
I couldn’t sleep Friday night. I kept thinking about the kids in Camden and then about the kids who were denied admissions here and at other independent schools because they and we simply do not have the resources. Then I thought about Mr. Jones and how hard he and Mrs. Jones have to work just to make ends meet. It’s just not fair. We have to do something. Final question, what is the solution to poverty? Answer: access to education and resources. I wish it were that simple. I really do. Gandhi said, “…be the change you wish to see…” I wish that for CMS and for all of you. Have a terrific week!