At Reunion, Making a Difference
Alumni bring order and a sense of calm to a distressed urban school| Slide Show by Kim Cornuelle, Text by Bari Walsh
On the Saturday morning of Reunion & Alumni Weekend, October 25, 2008, a group of about forty reunioning Boston University alumni and volunteers got on a bus and traveled to a part of the city that few would have visited when they were students. Dorchester’s Grove Hall neighborhood is among the most crime-plagued and destitute sections of the city, and the William M. Trotter Elementary School feels the impact of every aspect of the neighborhood’s dysfunction. Many children are homeless or rootless; their parents are unemployed or underemployed and often living separately; their lives are chaotic, touched by drug- and gang-related violence.
The school performs at or near the bottom on most indicators of educational achievement. But Trotter’s new principal, Mairead Nolan, wants to make a fresh start. She wants the school to be — if not an oasis, then at least a place of calm and order, where children can begin to shed some of the defenses they’ve built and open themselves to learning. Boston University has had connections with the school in the past; the School of Education, for example, runs a program there that encourages fathers to get involved in their children’s education. So it was a natural place for the organizers of Reunion & Alumni Weekend to turn when planning a community service event.
When alums arrived, Nolan gathered them in the auditorium and described a school in which mess, disorder, unused resources, and broken equipment were making it hard for teachers to do their work. The projects she assigned seemed humble: match computer monitors with corresponding hard drives; clean out storage closets to see what they hold, and sort any usable resources; match library books with classroom resources; paint benches. The cumulative effect was powerful, however. At the end of the morning, alums left behind a building where order had been imposed, where valuable resources had been discovered, and where chaos, for the moment, had been banished.