Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Take on School Forum and Play

Tuesday’s forum was billed as a chance for the community to offer solutions to school problems. It was supposed to run from 6 to 8 p.m.

At the risk of quibbling, I wish it had started on time and I really wish community members could have begun speaking earlier than 7:20 p.m., an hour after the late start.

The hour included introductory remarks, then a Power Point presentation recapping issues raised at a previous, state-run forum that was related to the NJQSAC monitoring, then more remarks from panelists and a rousing speech by the well-known motivational speaker Lenworth Gunther.

Gunther was engaging and entertaining, starting with a proverb he recited in French Creole, then translated: “Together we can make a difference, for every vein affects the heart.” Among many thought-provoking comments, he delivered a stinging put-down of rappers using their own stage names (Ludacris, for example). He also recited a long list of rappers with names that suggest infantilization or childishness: Arrested Development, Lil Bow Wow, Young Jeezy. In another jab at rappers, he said, “They took the “neighbor” out of the ‘hood.”

He also asked board members and dignitaries on the dais to come down into the audience and join residents in an exercise. Participants had to find two people they didn’t know, greet them and talk for a couple of minutes.

When it was finally time for the community input, each person got three minutes to speak and Gunther engaged in a dialogue with each speaker. First up was Larry Peterman, star of the high school production of “Zooman and the Sign,” who made a pitch for people to come out Wednesday morning and see the last performance. He said the experience increased his self-esteem and made him want to be an actor.

Five people got to speak before 8 p.m. and then the meeting ran an extra half hour, with about a dozen speakers in all.

Of about 100 people in the high school auditorium, more than half were staff members. Still, there were enough residents present to fill up another hour if they had chosen to speak.

Many speakers cited a need for mentoring, especially of young males. Others said there was not enough for young people to do, although Gunther reminded them that Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs had given a long list of youth activities in her remarks. Schools Superintendent Paula Howard said the high school has many clubs, but student interest is not there.

Howard also held up David Graves and Debbie Myers as examples of parents who turned around a low level of parental involvement at Hubbard School with a creative roster of events such as game night and study date night.

Alma Cruz recommended phone calls and home visits to get parents involved.

Despite the frustrating pace, the evening was interesting.

Today I attended the play, which had attracted a lot of comment on the NJ Forum over its use of the N-word. I was more upset with the portrayal of violence, even if there is supposed to be a lesson in it. Having had rocks thrown at me by four teenagers on my way home from the April 16 council meeting, in fact in front of my own home, I recoiled at the sight of a disaffected young man with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. I could just imagine those young people wishing they had something better than rocks with which to vent their hostility.

The film version of the play is R-Rated for strong language and violence. Middle school students were bused to the high school Wednesday to see the play. I was perplexed, but that’s just me.

--Bernice Paglia


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