The odorous smell of mold and mildew hits you like a brick wall when you step through the front doors at Spain Elementary-Middle School in Detroit.
I have been at Spain for 19 years, first as a first-grade teacher, then, after earning a master’s degree in counseling, as a school counselor. When I first started, it was a school any city would be proud to have in its district. Today, it’s the poster child for neglect and indifference to a quality teaching and learning environment for our 500 students. The gym is closed because half of the floor is buckled and the other half suffered so much rainwater damage from the dripping ceiling that it became covered with toxic black mold. Instead of professionally addressing the problem, a black tarp simply was placed over the entire area like a Band-Aid. That area of the school has been condemned.
The once beautiful pool sits empty because no one has come to fix it. The playground is off-limits because a geyser of searing hot steam explodes out of the ground. What do our kids do for exercise with no gym, playground or pool? They walk or run in the halls. Seriously. Our pre-K through eighth graders move like mall walkers.
A group of teachers, parents and children protest Jan. 11, 2016, in Detroit. A wave of teacher absences shut down more than half of Detroit’s 100 public schools for a few days this week. (Kim Kozlowski/Detroit News via AP)
Exposed wires hang from missing ceiling tiles. Watermarks from leaks abound. Kids either sit in freezing classrooms with their coats on or strip off layers because of stifling heat.
How can you teach or learn in conditions like these?