Lamberton, built in 1949, like Beeber is on the edge of Lower Merion. To get to it from Beeber, I dip through the posh neighborhood immediately on the outside of the Philadelphia city lines. There is nothing natural to distinguish these two neighborhoods- no treeline, river, or mountain. A purely political boundary results in vacant, dilapidated housing surrounded by Popeye’s chainfood and dollarstores while the other side of the dividing line has similarly old mansions, interspersed with new Frank Lloyd-esque homes and the sprawling campus of a Jewish Day School, where an annual $19,000 tuition fetches a grand campus surrounded by sports fields. Lamberton, itself, is sandwiched between two expansive parks- in what should be as desirable a setting as that found in Lower Merion.
Lamberton appears to be undergoing major renovations.
A blue tarp dangles in the breeze. In the distance, I can see the crossing guard standing at the foot of a Baptist church.
A crane idles in the school’s back lot as men repair the tar on the roof. The school district must be investing in the property, getting it ready for sale???? And the concept seems to bizarre when I consider all the public schools that are to remain open. Those with cracked blacktops, missing basketball hoops, buckets in the middle of hallways that catch rain water, broken windows, lack of janitorial staff to properly clean the facilities… the decision to repair this school that is going to be sold instead of spending funding on schools that are to remain open- I just cannot wrap my mind around it.
Will they paint over the mural on the side of the school? This mural shows a blonde child kneeling next to a black child. They are tending a garden together. A grandfather, father, and son tend a bush together.
When one-in-three, 30 percent, of all black males go to prison: this vision seems increasingly rare. That the Philadelphia school budget was cut by the exact amount as the increase in state prison spending seems even more ominous.
This mural is a vision- one worth working towards.
And at its base, caution tape and the workman’s elevator obscure the phrase, “Never doubt that a … thoughtful, committed citizens ….”
[Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has]
Is it true? Where are the thoughtful, committed citizens of Lamberton? Did they put up a fight? If they did, who did they fight against? Why could they not win?
Construction at the entrance of the upper school. Boards lean against the barred windows. An open dumpster brims with construction material.
Throwing caution (tape) to the wind. Much of the school is taped up like a crime scene.
Trophies seen through the bars of a classroom window.
A no-fun sign which may have been there as long as the school. “No ball playing,” it reads, sandwiched between two grated windows which could not conceivably be harmed even if Babe Ruth launched a baseball right at them. Maybe these windows were not always barred? When did the bars come up? The 70s? The 80s? The 90s?
The trash in the ditch: a clearly labeled indicator of human activity. In this case, children drink sugary, fortified, commercialized as healthy beverages from a plastic bottle. Adults smoke. Children smoke? Adults drink sugary, fortified health beverages from plastic bottles? Either way, the problems that plague our education system are woven together with so many other problems: health, diet, environment, land use, housing stock, economy, commercialization, globalization …
Unlike many of the conjoined elementary-middle-high schools slated for closure (Drew-Shaw-University City, Fulton-Germantown High) Lamberton’s lower school is to remain open. I ask a teacher as she ushers a class into Lamberton if school is going on while all the construction racket is happening on the roof. School is in progress.
“It doesn’t make sense. It’s all political,” she says about the closing.