Over the past ten days, the Irving Middle School has held two events for families that will be entering the school next September. Obvious failures, we haven’t made it to either event. On the evening of the first one, the youth baseball team coached by the Parent Imperfect played an exciting game under the mist at Daisy Field. He couldn’t miss that! And Event #2 took place on the same night that Mayor Menino presented Connie an award for academic achievement at the Hennigan School.
About two weeks before, Connie had been called to the Principal’s office in the middle of the morning. Not knowing the reason for the call, she was terrified that her teacher had asked the Principal to speak to Connie about her deteriorating conduct in class. But when she reached the office, she was greatly relieved to find out that the call had been about this award.
True to form, Liz and the PI were skeptical. All they received from the school was a sheet of paper with a time (6PM on May 30) and a place (the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall, downtown). What was the event and why was Connie, who had only spent a single year at the Hennigan, part of it? They smelled a rat. Connie’s teacher knew very little more about it than they did, but Connie was excited about having another opportunity to wear her graduation dress, so they went along. A few days before the event, an invitation arrived from the Mayor’s office with a few more details. After a reception in the fourth floor “museum” of Faneuil Hall, the awards would be presented in the historic Great Hall. This, alone, would be worth the trip.
The evening came and Liz, Connie and I headed out for a rare, school-night trip downtown. Vince has long since wearied of public presentations involving his sister, so he opted for soccer practice. Knowing nothing about Faneuil Hall, we wandered around the first floor until we found an elevator to the fourth floor. The elevator opened into an empty hall, save a few people standing behind tables of sandwiches, cookies and punch to the lucky recipients and their families. We had no idea that everyone else was waiting in line at the main entrance to the Hall.
Moments later, someone opened the door and the museum filled quickly with the remarkable variety of people who make up the Boston Public Schools. We knew only the people from Connie’s school and the group from the Hernández School, Connie’s school until this year. The teacher accompanying the Hernández students greeted us with, “What are you doing here?” as if the smell of sandwiches had brought us in. She, too, was surprised to hear that Connie was being honored by a school that she had only attended for a single year.
The reception ended quickly and school and city officials herded everyone down to the Great Hall. I had been there for events before, but didn’t remember feeling the sense of history in the place the way I did this time. We all took our seats on the floor and BPS Superintendent Johnson and the Mayor’s Education aide sat down under the huge mural above the stage. Then we all sat for 35 minutes waiting for the Mayor.
He eventually sauntered in, and Liz said under her breath, “he must have taken a school bus to the event.” Never one to think twice about stealing a good line, to Liz’s horror I repeated it loud enough to get a good laugh from everyone around us who got the reference to the bus delays that have plagued the system all year.
Without a hint of remorse, the Mayor stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone to the event. He had the audacity to instruct the principals who would present the awards to be BRIEF, at all costs. After a few more words from the Superintendent and the Mayor’s aide, the show was on.
Over the next 100 minutes, about 25 school principals took the mike to briefly introduce two students from each of their schools. One was receiving an award for academic excellence and the other was being recognized for “school spirit.” Each award recipient received a trophy, had picture taken with the Mayor and the Super and then stood there while their Principal told their story.
I was perfectly well-prepared to pooh-pooh the whole thing as a publicity stunt for the Mayor, but it turned out to be quite a memorable event. The Mayor busied himself fumbling with the personalized trophies while Boston’s future moved across the stage in a parade that gave the Higginson/Lewis K-8 School just as much attention as Boston Latin Academy. The leader of Dorchester Academy got to tell the story of a young woman who is headed to Princeton and the Headmaster of Tech Boston Academy took the time to introduce two beaming young immigrants who will be attending college (Syracuse and Wentworth) on full scholarships. To hear a version of Ms. Connie’s story among these was something that we won’t soon forget.
As we descended the stairs from the Great Hall to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the 7PM group was lined up waiting their turn to tell stories just as compelling as those we had just heard. It was a time for even the skeptic to take a night off and be proud about being a small part of the life of public schools in Boston. Don’t worry…the skeptic has not taken leave of his senses.