The non-story of the misspelled crossing sign on the street outside of Marta Valle High School has been making its rounds lately. The Department of Transportation painted the words “
School Shcool Xing” in the gutter outside of the Lower East Side community school. The mistake went unchallenged for months, leading many to point fingers at the school for not having it corrected.
Why am I writing about this non-story? Because Marta Valle is where I spent the first 6 years of my career.
I still have a special connection to the place. It was a secondary school when I was there, serving grades 7-12. The population was very small, with most of the kids being from the neighborhood. It was a place in constant flux, and probably still is, going through administrators and teachers like Kleenex. The few veteran teachers who I know are still there are particularly dedicated. They would have to be, since there has never been much direction, discipline or support for teachers.
It is a shame that the school is getting this type of negative attention. The kids I taught at Marta Valle had little reason to have any school spirit. It would not be uncommon to hear kids say that the school was “budget” or “fake”. Kids are perceptive and they know when their school is not being given a chance. This story will do nothing to improve the standing of the school in their eyes.
The building looks like a jail. There are gates over the windows and giant metal bars at the front of the school that lock people out during non-school hours. At the same time, the surrounding neighborhood has undergone complete gentrification. Dozens of hipster bars and restaurants opened up during my tenure there, while the rents of the cubbyhole apartments in the area skyrocketed well out of the range of both the families and teachers associated with Marta Valle. Most of the students at Marta Valle are relegated to the housing projects of the Lower East Side: Baruch, Riis, Wald, Rutgers and Smith. Being located in the lap of luxury only serves to highlight to the students how neglected their school really is.
I can imagine the current generation of students at Marta Valle, who are probably the younger siblings of the generation I taught, using all of the hype around this simple mistake as further proof that their school is “budget”. I really do not know who to blame for this error, nor do I know if blame should be ascribed to anybody at all. What I do know is that the media’s mad rush to destroy the image of public schools has led them to run this story. As a result, a few hundred young people who are trapped in poverty on the Lower East Side have been given yet another reason to be alienated from their school. This coming on the heels of the New York Times celebrating a completely vacuous video made by students at the Renaissance Charter High School.
I hope all of the local newspapers and television stations that have been chuckling over this story for the past few days are satisfied. When any of them want to do a real story, I will be here waiting to regale them with the tales of abject poverty and alienation that constitute this little-known pocket of Lower Manhattan.