On a pleasant, sunny Sunday afternoon, a group of Georgetown University students went for a walk. This was not simply a leisurely stroll. They were taking on the challenge of walking a mile in someone else’s much-smaller shoes: those of the preschool through 5th grade students of Kenilworth Elementary School, who would make this walk daily to their new school once their school closed in June.
The group gathered to start their walk at the Kenilworth School Building. They walked through the neighborhood’s public housing and across a highway…
… through a tunnel, out of the Kenilworth community, and into another neighborhood.
Once in the Deanwood neighborhood, they walked past a bus bay, across a field, pass a recreation center and middle school, all to arrive at their new school, Houston Elementary.
The distance totaled 0.8 miles, almost one-tenth the width of the District.
DC Public Schools’ consolidation plan, beginning this fall, assigns students from Kenilworth Elementary to attend either Houston Elementary or Thomas Elementary. There’s transportation for students traveling to Thomas School, but not for those students traveling to Houston Elementary. These students would have to take the same journey as Nasir, a 9 year old who shared his thoughts on what would be his new school.
Nasir is the star of an interview which gives his perspective on the consequences for, and causes of, his neighborhood school closing. Normally, the suggestion to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is a figurative one. Nasir and the Georgetown students afford others the opportunity to participate in the call to action with their video and the community walk.
Over the last few years, Kenilworth has partnered with Georgetown to provide tutoring for 1st through 3rd grade students reading below grade level. The program seeks to combat educational inequalities by tutoring, mentoring, and engaging students in challenging environments. In doing so, DC Reads fosters relationships among elementary youth, college students, families and community members through increasing knowledge of the larger social justice issues that surround education. As a result, these college students have become a part of the Kenilworth School community.
The walk’s organizers hoped to continue the community dialogue about the future of Kenilworth School, highlight the potential consequences of the school closures, and demonstrate the challenges the students will face walking to Houston Elementary, their newly-assigned school. They consider themselves concerned community members representing an unheard perspective. This perspective comes from the students, their fellow young people and the most affected community members.
A community is not just the people who live in it. Most communities exist before any of its current residents were born and are likely to continue to exist after its residents have passed on. It is something beyond the individuals or components — the residents, buildings, and community members. Members can and often include individuals living elsewhere but with remaining connections. Rather than physical boundaries, the demarcation of a community is often one of a common interest.
One community member was grateful for the support of the students but disappointed at the dismal numbers of Kenilworth parents and residents who joined the walk. One of only a handful of residents in attendance, he apologized to the organizers on behalf of the community. However, it seemed unnecessary, since at that moment, all of those in attendance were the community.
Despite not being parents, everyone in the group shared a common interest with the families who send their children to Kenilworth School everyday. They care for and want the best for the children of Kenilworth, and undeterred, they planned to walk again to show their support.
Their showing of support demonstrates the promise to share in a vibrant community, not a deficit in community spirit. It means no matter how physically isolated, the Kenilworth community has a common interest worth sharing and investment. All of these persist despite currently suffering the potential loss of another institution and much needed service in a community where the school is the only remaining public investment. Still, sometimes it takes welcoming in someone who is seemingly an outsider and following their lead, allowing a change in perspective.
A community is healthy when the members show love and concern for one another. Hopefully, with the community walk, the organizers have accomplished their goal of placing their community’s interest at the forefront in the conversation on school closures — educating and caring for children.
You can watch the full video below.