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School holds meaning for a neighborhood

The view from my home office window overlooking Days Park may seem mundane to some -- children getting on and off school buses, parents coming and going to meetings, teachers arriving at early hours to prepare for classes and leaving late to accommodate the work that many educators do on their own time.

But there is nothing mundane about a Buffalo public school that works. School 36, a bilingual early childhood center located right on my beautiful park, is just that.

A recent proposal from the superintendent to close the school thus defies logic, if not good common sense. It targets a small, well-performing, bilingual school in a solid building with involved parents and dedicated teachers. It also targets an excellent neighbor and community partner.

I and the other residents on the park, collectively the Days Park Block Club, are determined to help this school survive. The children who attend School 36 come from across the street and all over the city to a small building on a small park, but they and their parents come with big expectations. They expect that their languages and cultures will be respected at the same time they are learning English, and that they will be served by good teachers in a well-maintained building (one that has recently undergone many costly improvements).

And they expect that by going through the door of a small school containing only pre-K to second grade students, they will enter an environment conducive to early learning, not yet influenced by the competition, fashion, or conflict that often plague schools with older children.

The neighbors on Days Park have also had big expectations of the school. School 36 opened on the park in 1868. Students in the 1950s planted trees around the park. When every last tree was cut down in the late 1960s, children from School 36 raised funds with the Allentown Association, Allentown Village Society and Days Park residents to plant 60 new trees. Those trees are the grand maples that now grace the center of the park.

Between 1997 and 1999, School 36 -- along with our block club, First Presbyterian Church, and other partners -- raised more than $65,000 to plan and build an age-appropriate community playground. And I am cheered in the spring when the daffodil bulbs bloom -- 1,000 bulbs to be exact, planted by the children of School 36.

In 2000 the school children joined the Days Park Block Club, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and other dignitaries to announce the discovery of Frederick Law Olmsted's designs for the lovely "small space" that is Days Park. Suddenly, we were all in a very exclusive club.

When the Days Park Block Club was honored in 2003 with a City of Buffalo Civic Empowerment Award, School 36 was named on the award as a partner in the park's revival. That restoration was recognized again in 2003 when the park was named a national finalist for a Great Community Space Award from the Project for Public Spaces, which honors the best of American urban parks.

We in this part of Allentown have a wide diversity of residents -- and a good school.

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