It's time to listen to your children (again) in 'No Sto'
North Stonington — Too bad this wasn't an episode of Law & Order. Then maybe Jack McCoy could rise from his chair and holler, "Objection, your honor! Asked and answered."
Because it was May of 2016 when the people of North Stonington were asked: "Would you approve the $38.5 million bond package to preserve the schools?"
They answered: "Yes." The vote was 908-905.
Except it appears that even the democratic process in No Sto is a no go. Here we are again, despite the question already asked and answered, talking about whether to fix decrepit Wheeler High School.
No Sto: Where they just don't take yes for an answer.
A town meeting was scheduled for Thursday night to discuss. Except a petition was submitted Wednesday to force a referendum in two weeks, which is past the state's deadline. The epitome of despicable. Here's hoping state officials will see through the sabotage and listen to the majority anyway.
And so Wednesday afternoon I decided to do something radical. Ask the kids what they think. I know. Pretty avant-garde, right? We tell the kids they're our future, but nobody ever wants to hear from them in the present.
It was the kids last time who truly helped influence the "yes" vote. Never forget the softball game at Wheeler on May 17, 2016 where seemingly the whole school rocked #weareWheeler T-shirts, all but begging the townspeople who honor the concepts of community and identity schools provide better than anyone, anything or anybody else.
So, children of Wheeler, what say you on your high school and the potential of being schlepped to Stonington?
Junior Savannah Johnson: "I'm involved in a million things here. There are so many opportunities. The involvement here is insane. The relationships with teachers are truly amazing. I don't think we'd get that at a different school."
Senior Kevin Velez: "We have so many great things here. Our Give Back Club just went to Texas (Houston) for hurricane relief. We have 'BRAVE,' which is Bringing Remembrance to All Veterans Everywhere. Small class sizes give us the ability to truly know our teachers. Even teachers we don't know get to know us on a first-name basis. We feel like we have some value here."
Senior Anjum Shaikh: "We have a (science) teacher here (Andreas Connal-Nicolaou) who has a PhD from Yale. I got the best biology education I could possibly get in this area."
Junior Finn Steele: "The atmosphere here is easy going. Everyone knows each other. It's easy to learn in this environment."
And that, really, is what the handful of purportedly aggrieved taxpayers, who apparently wield more power than Mussolini once did, don't get. Your kids get a unique educational experience in No Sto because, ironically, of the one thing for which Wheeler gets mocked: size.
Turns out the smallness of the school population begets greatness of opportunity.
Principal Kristen St. Germain said Wednesday that 58 percent of the school population participates in sports. Wheeler doesn't win as much as most ECC brethren. Hardly the point. Its kids have the opportunity to compete, thus exposed to all the lessons and metaphorical richness sports provide. If they go to Stonington, there is no chance — none — that anything close to 58 percent of North Stonington kids would play sports. They'd get swallowed among the masses.
"Although many other surrounding schools boast this, we truly offer students a private experience overall in academics, sports and clubs," St. Germain said. "It is a public school with a real private setting."
In May of 2016, Raven Houck, the shortstop for the softball team headed to the University of Pennsylvania, said, "Most of the problem here is that people look at it only financially. I think they need to look at it as a whole. What does the school make you as a person? My experience couldn't have been any better. A small school, being so close to the teachers and coaches, is worth more than any money in the world."
And what becomes of North Stonington without Wheeler? Aside from the fairgrounds and Jonathan Edwards Winery, what else defines the town better than, as St. Germain said, a public school in a private setting?
"We need this project to happen," St. Germain said. "We have PCBs, windows that don't open and rooms and ceilings that leak with the slightest rainfall. Despite that, we also have students/athletes/parents/teachers/administrators who love their school and are proud of their school experience and come every single day because of how much they value what we provide our students.
"The #weareWheeler movement is palpable. But please believe that fixing the schools is more than about sending our high school elsewhere. The Board of Education already voted against that motion and it failed. Our facilities are the problem, and they are a problem for the entire district. All pre-K-12 students. The time has come. The people have voted. It is unfortunate in the 11th hour a small handful can take away so much momentum from so many hard working people."
Per an editorial Wednesday in The Day, "various predictions of the annual burden on the owner of a house valued at $175,000 hover around $500 in additional taxes."
That's $9.62 cents a week.
Two friends in real estate say the median home value in North Stonington is roughly $240,000. That means an extra $685.13 per year or $13.18 per week.
And so I ask the residents of No Sto: Are your kids worth $13.18 per week? Are you absolutely sure you can't spare $13.18 per week? Would you be more inclined to spare $13.18 per week if you were saving for a new flat screen?
Ask yourself that one.
Then think about the kids and your responsibility to them.
They love Wheeler. They're sending in photos from as far away as Spain this week sporting the sign "Build It."
Listen to your children, No Sto.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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