School Closure Is a Tough Blow for Lansing Neighborhood

East Lansing, MI – East Lansing, MI (WKAR) - The Lansing School District will hold an informational meeting for parents at Grand River Elementary School Tuesday night.

The district is closing Grand River and another elementary school, Moores Park, in June. It's part of a plan to address declining enrollment, budget problems and aging school buildings in the district.

Parents, teachers and administrators fought to save Moores Park Elementary and so did its neighbors.

As WKAR's Gretchen Millich reports, the closing of Moores Park Elementary marks the end of an era of community connection to the school.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday, at 3:10 sharp, Alice Brinkman and her assistants leave the Reach Studio Art Center on South Washington and walk a few blocks to Moores Park Elementary School. They gather up a group of students and start walking back to the studio for after-school art classes.

"After school is a challenging time," says Brinkman. "The kids have been in school all day, and they aren't ready to sit still for another two hours. "

The Moores Park School is a special place for Brinkman. Her own children, who are now adults, attended Moores Park, and she often volunteered there. Five years ago, she started the art center. Students come to her studio from all over Lansing, but her Moores Park group is by far the largest.

In the shadow of Eckert Power Station, where Lansing's triple towers loom, Moores Park elementary sits in an unusually beautiful spot. The picturesque setting is itself a work of art. The school overlooks the Grand River, Moores Park and a public swimming pool.

"Oh it is beautiful," says Dorothy Jones. "I always envied the librarian that worked there because the library looks out over the park. In the fall you just can't believe the beauty. It's just a riot of color."

Jones is a retired elementary school librarian. Like Alice Brinkman, she also volunteered at Moores Park elementary. Her children went there in the 1960's. In the 90's, she ran an after-school program. Every spring, she organizes a group of neighbors to help students plant flowers outside the school.

She says she'll miss that, but she's more concerned with academics than aesthetics. Jones is angry that the closure of the school means the end of a special program that helps children who are having trouble reading.

"Children who do have trouble need extra help," says Jones. "I think if the get it when they are very young, then they can overcome those kinds of handicaps and succeed. I just hate the thought of these children struggling all their way through school, and if they can't read, they will."

Lansing school superintendent T.C. Wallace has told parents that all of the schools in the district are now capable of doing what Moores Park does for slow readers, but Jones doesn't buy that.

"It breaks my heart to see those parents pleading with them to keep that program for their children and to know that they just turned their backs on it," she says. "I don't believe that the other schools are prepared to do what this staff is doing."

Moores Park has 190 students in kindergarten though third grade. Only 22 live in the neighborhood. The rest come from other parts of the city, just to attend the reading program.

Michelle Herrera's son has reading and speech disabilities. He takes the bus every day to Moores Park. Herrera says Moores Park elementary has given her son the special attention he didn't get at his own neighborhood school.

"This is the last year he's there, but there are other children who need this," says Herrera. "They are going to get shoveled in and lost like it doesn't matter, but it does. These children are special just like the children who get straight A's. "

The decision to shutter Moores Park elementary is a done deal. Enrollment is low and school officials say they'll save about $300,000 a year by closing the building. Students and teachers in the intensive reading program will be scattered to other schools.

Back at the Reach Studio Art Center, Alice Brinkman has gathered up her Moores Park students. She's afraid that when Moores Park closes, a lot of her students won't come back.

"I'm very disappointed from all different angles," says Brinkman. "Because Moores Park is in my neighborhood and working so closely with the school, we've developed a very close partnership."

Brinkman says what she'll miss most is walking with Moores Park students to the art center. It's the only school within walking distance. She's worried that when the kids go to other schools, further away, getting to the art center after school and keeping their talents sharp will become difficult or impossible.