By Jaclyn McNeal
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
Change is hard. It stretches you and often it pulls you in the complete opposite direction of which you want to go. We resist it, we fight it, and it gets even more difficult. I understand this all too well, but for some reason I couldn’t understand why so many of the East Lansing residents were resisting the change of the reconfiguration of their school system. Unable to empathize or give them the benefit of the doubt, I unfairly chalked each emotional, personal, outspoken, disagreeable person up to the idea that they simply like to be difficult. To me, with the facts layed out, it seemed simple. But as I got further and further into interviews with residents throughout the city, it became obvious that I was most definitely missing something.
On a whim I grabbed my camera, jumped in my car, and started driving to the nearest elementary building where I was determined to find…something. It wasn’t until I had gotten to the third school, Donley Elementary, that my eyes began to open up to what I had been missing. I walked to the front of the building where there are benches around bricks with messages on them about the school. Some were dedicated to teachers who changed lives, others to knowledge gained there that had lasted a lifetime, one to friendship and memories made.
It finally became more personal to me. And as I wandered around my next stop, Pinecrest Elementary, it finally hit me. It is personal. So very, personal. As I was walking around the outside of this ghost town of an elementary school, pulling on locked doors and peeking through dark windows, I saw a poster on the wall in a hallway that said, “At Pinecrest Elementary we show our hearts,” with hundreds of tiny, sloppy, printed names surrounding the words.
For the first time, I was able to visualize children running around the playground, filling the soccer fields with shouts and laughter. I could see them playing Four Square, shooting baskets, and filling the swings with fits of giggles. I could see teachers in their classrooms reading a book to their students, showing a math problem on the board. I thought about all of the mothers who have dropped their children off for their first day of school only to end up crying the entire drive home because instead of clinging to their side, they innocently asked when they were going to leave. I thought of the hurt feelings and friendships formed within those walls, some 50 years ago that still exist today. I thought of major milestones in the existence of these schools…The first computers wheeled through the halls, the exchanging of chalkboards for digital projectors. I thought of all the scraped knees on the playground, the lessons learned the hard way. I thought of the men and women who entered those doors everyday, dedicating their lives to influencing the lives of generations to come. I pictured retirement parties, tough goodbyes, and welcomed returns.
I spoke to a woman who watched her children walk out of her door and into Whitehills Elementary everyday. Now she watches her grandchildren do the exact same thing. It is personal. It is emotional.
There are memories within the walls of these six schools that nothing can replace, their worth being far more than any amount of money saved in a budget.
But at the same time, there is nothing that can take those memories away. Things may change…What is now an elementary school may become an office building or a daycare center. I really don’t know. But I do know this…there is a time and a season for everything. And if this time calls for change for whatever reason, then let it be. New memories will be made. New friendships will be formed, new routines will come to exist. It won’t be easy, but it will work. And while it’s impossible to see the entire picture yet, I think we have some pretty great pieces to work with.