Thanks to The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, I had the privilege of visiting The Community School. The founder and administrator Thomas Culotta calls it “a neighborhood academic and mentoring high school with some great students, most of whom come from challenging circumstances. ” I call it a miracle.
I have been teaching in inner-city “south side” schools for the bulk of my career and have never seen anything like this.
What did I see first? The neighborhood. Which was more like a 3rd world country. #ThisisTheBestWeCanDoAmerica? Houses sealed with cinder blocks so they won’t become crack dens. Top floors burnt out by ancient wiring. Mattresses pushed against windows to barricade against the cold. Mural art. My favorite piece, the rosES in the concrete. Cause fuck the idea that there’s only one rose. Let’s save the whole damn garden.
What else did I see: Those roses. Children.
Children bundled up in second-hand coats carrying the weight of backpacks and everything in our society stacked against them. Maybe instead of focusing on building walls against Mexico, we could build these kids walls to hold up their damn houses, rec centers, a library. Each child I saw had a shepherd holding their hands as they crossed the street and I crossed my fingers that they would make it against the traffic, against every force of fate working against them.
What did I witness at The Community School? 16 inner city kids who had every reason to be everywhere but in a one-room school for ten hours a day sharing their insights, their hopes, and their dreams with poise and eloquence. They seemed more like an Ivy league MFA program than a high school running on public donations. In fact, MFAs could probably learn a thing or two from these kids.
So, who is this Tom Culotta? He’s this man who started the school thirteen years ago with a room, a dream for youth, and a wood burning stove. He’s the man who dumpster-dived to get kids textbooks. Begged a paper factory to give him remnants. He’s the man the high schoolers at The Community School, the ones with fathers in prison, the one working to support his mom who has a brain tumor–all of them who made it this far AGAINST ALL ODDS–consider a father figure.
I have an idea. Yeah, a dream. It spoke to me through the mouths of the 16 kids who shared their writing with me and bared their schools. The kids who told me they wanted to be writers, business owners, politicians; who wanted to be good. Let’s fund the hell out this school. Let’s start a writers scholarship and send a kid out of inner city Baltimore and to a place where they can see, they can know, they can aspire. Let’s link this school up with a sister school over here in Ashburn.
If you agree, give me a shout up. Let’s link up and do this. Here’s a link to the school. tcshighschool.org.
TCS High School – The Community School