By Sandra Stratman
Last month I was extremely disheartened to hear that Georgia Brown was recommended by the 7-11 committee to close the school for budget purposes. Mind you, I understand the school is falling apart. I understand that it needs a complete overhaul of which, according to the 7-11 Committee, “the $13.85 million currently allocated to Georgia Brown likely would not be sufficient to complete a renovation”. However, I hope the committee truly looks at the bigger picture of what surrounds that campus and how important it is for us to keep a school open in that vicinity.
On an educational level, the dual immersion program at Georgia Brown breeds unique students that think differently and learn differently. With having to juggle two different languages, it boosts cognitive skills, which in turn boosts problem-solving skills. It provides enhanced communication skills wherein Kindergarten 50 percent of the kids come from Spanish only speaking homes and the other 50 percent from English only speaking homes, forcing them to express themselves differently for communication. It allows them to use language in real-world ways, and there is something to be said that Georgia Brown has produced the last three years of Valedictorians at PRHS.
On a social level, GB serves the beautiful community that surrounds it by providing global and diversity enrichment. It unites cultures and provides relationships and unpretentious long-lasting friendships. It has a first 5 programs right next to it that is a feeder for GB.
Although currently closed due to the pandemic, it also has a City Study Library, which provides a safe, supportive environment for students to get homework done. In addition, the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation (PRYAF) is nearby, which provides FREE enrichment of the arts so students can walk there after school to take dance, art, theater, and music lessons. Something that they may not have access to if it wasn’t right there in their neighborhood.
Although I understand the fiscal reasons for recommending the closure of Georgia Brown, my bigger concern is for the community which surrounds it. In a world where inclusivity is on the rise and in a world where the underserved need community support, is this the best decision to make? How do we resolve to save the district money and support a community that needs our support? What will transportation look like if/when the school is moved to the new Bauer Speck school? Will the school district make sure these kids have transportation to and from so they can attend PRYAF or go to the study library? Is renovation completely out of the picture? Is there another school that can be closed to make the amount of schools on the east and west sides more equitable?
I bring these questions up because in reviewing the 7-11 Committee report, not once did it mention anything about how that community would be served when considering this decision. It addressed the Dual Immersion program (which will still remain but just moved to a different location), the age of the school, the condition it was in, and the budget it would take for renovation. But not once did it mention anything about how this closure would benefit the community around it.
I remember the first time I set foot on that campus when I was turning in my daughter’s kindergarten application to attend the school back in 2006. I loved the feel of the cultural influence and the sound of everyone speaking Spanish. It brought back memories of my childhood growing up. It was at that moment, I knew that it was the right move to raise our children in this environment. In a world where each generation loses a part of the generation before, we were doing the opposite, and I know it warmed my parents’ hearts to know their grandchildren would be carrying on the Spanish Language along with the Spanish influences. Georgia Brown’s location had a lot to do with that.
I hope that when this decision is finally made, significant thought is put into how this closure would benefit the community that surrounds Georgia Brown. After all, this change would likely make it difficult for those living there who need a school in their vicinity. I know the leaders of the school have the best interest of the children and will make decisions to have minimal impact on the school and the community around it. I just hope the Board of Trustees also put the best interest of the students in that neighborhood at the forefront and, if closure is necessary, that they put into place precautions to support them. As a community, we need to lift up the Georgia Brown neighborhood and let them know they are just as important as other parts of the community.
Sandra Stratman is an independent opinion columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.