Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Connections

Halloween night on Belvedere Avenue. Orange lights glow up and down the block while pumpkin-bearing figures dart across the streets and sidewalks, clad as bats, bees, ghosts, princesses, superheroes, science fiction fantasies and psychotic killers (Parker, alas, crossed the line into the latter category this year). Unlike last year's mix of cold and rain, it is a perfect night to trick-or-treat, calm and clear, with just the slightest edge of chill.

All of a sudden a small girl, white-beaded braids dangling, appears in front of me and throws her arms around my legs, face tilted up towards mine. "I know you from my school!" she declares.

It is a typical Shamrock Gardens moment. I often refer to Shamrock as the "Land of Hugs," because hugs are such a common currency among the students. As I walk down the corridors or through the cafeteria, student after student detours in my direction for a squeeze, a smile, and a quick hi. Speak to a child once, visit a classroom to make a presentation, and you earn years of PDAs (although they slack off somewhat as the kids get up into the upper grades). Even if the little girl hadn't mentioned Shamrock, the hug would have given her away.

Further up Belvedere, a boy has collared Peter. "You came to talk to my class," he said. When his mom wants to know more, he explains to her that Peter showed his first grade class how to draw buildings. Parker, running by in his candy-laden, psycho-killer suit, barely has time to wave before he's vanished up the street. But the rest of us exchange smiles, and affirm to each other that our kids attend the very best school in CMS, before

heading on our separate ways.

Plaza Midwood is a Halloween magnet, with quiet streets, big, close-set houses, lots of decorations and – most important – a bountiful supply of excellent candy. Plenty of families come here from other neighborhoods, and streets that most days seem lily-white host a multicultural extravaganza, with everyone cavorting happily together among tombstones, moaning ghosts and clouds of artificial smoke.

It makes me happy that a little girl came to the fancy neighborhood next door to trick-or-treat, and ran into someone from her school. Peter and I have always hoped that having families from Plaza-Midwood at Shamrock would draw the different neighborhoods that feed the school a little closer together. Any time we take one of Parker's school friends home to Plaza-Shamrock, the neighborhood where most of Shamrock's students live, we're struck by the gulf that separates their neighborhood from ours, even though the two sit only blocks apart. We don't believe that these divisions are good for our city, or for our country.

Like so many public schools, Shamrock has the potential to connect otherwise divided parts of town. Sending your kids to the same school has the potential to create far more powerful bonds than charitable efforts, or the polite exchange of greetings, or the cheerful distribution of Halloween treats to one and all. With a school, you have something in common that really matters.

For a variety of reasons, we have yet to really take advantage of this potential. One more idea left on the shelf. But looking at that smiling, upturned face, feeling the warmth of little arms about my knees, I think that perhaps some small something has been accomplished, and feel inspired to hope for more.