Last week, Jefferson Parish School Board voted to consolidate and close a number of schools in response to the national teacher shortage and reduced student enrollment at the local level. The next morning, several of my current coworkers asked me how I felt about the closing of Grace King High School specifically, knowing that I used to teach there. My initial response was that I didn’t have any strong personal feelings about it but that my heart was hurting for my former coworkers, some of whom have been there for a decade or more, who were suddenly being tossed to the wind.
That evening, though, I went to the Prom for my current school, and I started thinking about how much of who I am today is the result of the time I spent teaching at Grace King.
Attending Prom triggered these thoughts because for four years I served, first, as the junior class sponsor and then, as the senior class sponsor. This meant that, along with my co-sponsors, I was responsible for Prom, Graduation, and many class events, including Senior Sunrise and Senior Sunset. Although these events were a lot of work, they are among my best memories from my time at Grace King. They were opportunities to see our student leadership shine and to get to know our amazing students outside of the classroom. Of course, my favorite memory is the year I chaperoned Senior Trip to Disney World and Universal Studios. The kids started calling me Ms. Frizzle by the end of the trip because I was “always at the front of the bus giving instructions,” but it was such a joy to watch them running around the amusement parks like little kids and taking turns playing with the wand I bought in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
There was also the year I took a group of about 50 students on field trips to nearly every local college and university in the area over the course of the fall semester. Any teacher who has ever planned a field trip knows they are no easy task, and I never would have been able to execute so many trips if I didn’t have confidence that my students deserved the experiences and would positively represent the school.
In fact, the students I taught at Grace King profoundly influence the teacher I am today.
Their diversity and their experiences taught me so much about what I needed to prioritize as a teacher. I have stayed in touch with many of my former students, and it has been such a privilege to watch them blossom into successful adults. And though I never taught any of the students who spoke up at the school board meeting, those students who did absolutely represented the strength and determination of Grace King’s students.
I taught at Grace King for 5 years as a teacher and an additional year as a Dual Enrollment adjunct through UNO. Aside from learning from my students, during my time there, I received exceptional training as an AP teacher through Jefferson Parish Public Schools’ partnership with Mass Insight Education and Research. Also, my very best friends are all women I taught with at GK, and though our friendships started by simply being supportive coworkers, they have blossomed into relationships that I could not go through life without.
I would not be the teacher or the person I am today without my experiences at GK, and it makes me sad that the school as an institution will no longer exist, but my grief pales in comparison to the heartache being experienced by the current teachers and students at Grace King. While I do understand the logistics behind the decision, no amount of savings can make up for the sudden sense of upheaval and loss that they are feeling. Teachers and administrators have been promised they’ll be placed at other schools, but there is no guarantee they will teach the same classes or hold the same positions as they did at Grace King. Students are being separated from their friend groups and sent to rival schools, which is certain to cause them anxiety and discomfort. Their careers are being upended and their identities as members of the Grace King are being stripped from them. What is being asked of them is so much more than simply changing schools, and they deserve compassion and support at this time.
But beyond the teachers and students, the school itself is losing its identity.
Although the building will still stand, will anyone share with pride the history behind the on-campus miniature golf course designed by a former Special Education teacher to be handicap accessible? Do the new building occupants have the right to claim that movies like 21 Jump Street and The Perfect Date were filmed at their school? Will Grace King, the writer for whom the school was named, be remembered when the school ceases to exist? Who will declare with pride that Ellen DeGeneres attended GK when it was still an all-girls school, or that its famous alumni include Sal Kahn, creator of Kahn Academy, NBA player Danny Granger, and Phil Anselmo from the band Pantera? Will the new schools that the Grace King students attend be able to demonstrate pride in a student population that represents countries and languages from around the world the way the GK does? Will their soccer and baseball teams be as formidable? Will this year’s Seniors be the last to second line out around campus on their last day? Will Grace King traditions be incorporated or forgotten? What will happen to the legacy of Grace King when Haynes takes over the campus?
I hope that Jefferson Parish will do something to memorialize Grace King and all the other schools that are being lost to this change because school pride shouldn’t be lost to the history book. And I hope they will do something to support the students and teachers in their transitions, especially since they are forcing this change on them just as things started to feel normal again.
I am no longer a member of the Fighting Irish, but one more time, to honor the school that is so much a part of who I am, let me shout with pride: