Keeping Hope Alive: CPESS Reunion

Dear friends, colleagues and family,

A wonderful evening August 17 at Savannah Rae on 123rd and Adam Clayton Powell  Blvd has led me to be tougher on myself!  There is work to be done and it is time to ignore my symptoms and get back to the keyboard! Task one: back to a blog entry every week…or every other?

The event—the last Saturday brought me into the city (thanks to Jane Andrias’ husband who drove us in and out!)! Probably over a hundred graduates of Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS) got together again.  It is the third or fourth formal reunion the graduates have had. It has been 27 years since the first five Central Park East Secondary School classes graduated.

After the first dozen or so years, and the first five or so graduations there were dramatic changes that gradually created a very different school. It hurt but the pain of the loss of the original vision of CPESS disappears when I see these wonderful men and women who came from its heyday. All the women are strong, all the men handsome and all way above average! (to paraphrase the Lakewoebegone slogan). Best of all they remember us—staff and peers—with love and for the last almost three decades have been there for each other.

No one can take that away!

I hope you all have bought the book Emily Gasoi and I wrote last fall, These Schools Belong to You and Me.  In many ways Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, which inspired our book title, sums up how we felt about CPESS and what Woody Guthrie’s song had in mind for this land of ours. Those words remind me again that the heart of a good school—and nation—comes down to the quality of the relationships forged between the real-life people who make it go day after day. As we witness the fraying of a very precarious struggle for a true democracy his words help, just as did this reunion.

I also just finished reading a recently published British book entitled Miseducation – Inequality, Education and the Working Class. Author Diane Reay tackles issues close to my heart and reminds me of concerns we share but also of our different contexts. It is useful to read and think of whether and how it would read if racism and racial inequality were its theme. I think it helps me understand the rise of Trumpism. I believe, like Reay, that schools have played a role in creating the divide that has made enemies out of potential allies.

Which in turn led me to Aretha Franklin and the concept of mutual respect which is too often absent from our schools and politics.

Which brings me back to that roomful of friends last Saturday night, most in their forties but also a few of us in our late 70s on up. And mostly Black and Brown. All of us full of fond memories of each other (and a few probably tinged with regrets). But there was a love in that room that keeps me hopeful. And determined to stay in the long-term battle as long as I can

No more excuses.


P.S. The event last week reminded me also that one person’s determination to make a difference is not to be forgotten.  Thank you Erran Matthews For making it happen.

7 Responses

  1. Thanks Diane.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Deborah, Good to hear and see that you are back at the keyboard.–Jeffrey

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Can’t overstate the immense impact CPESS had on me personally and professionally. From time to time in my travels I run into former students; always a moment of warmth and celebration. Much love and sincere appreciation,

  4. Hi Debbie! I’m reading this with tears in my eyes. The love we all have for each other is priceless! It’s amazing how we have stayed in touch, how tight are bonds are and how we will always be there for each other forever! I thank you for your vision and never giving up even when people didn’t believe in our school. Because of you I am so blessed to have a family between CPE 1 and Central Park East Secondary School. Blessings! THANK YOU FOR ALWAYS BELIEVING IN ME AND US 🙂


    Serena Wills
    CPESS Falcon 4 Life

  5. By near accident I heard Andrina Nacina Cole on NPR, was whirled mentally into my days as an old beginner in a ghetto Middle School. This is a summer program, “boutique and not,” and reading/writing based but very political. For me the, hope. Tomorrow I turn 71, and 3 or 4 generations of us will see a young woman’s crafting of I Dream a World (a book I used in Baltimore) into something with high school young women on the stage. You might enjoy these women, and a little (more) toughness might rub off 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing and never giving up .It touches my heart.

  7. I spent only one day at CPESS – I chose to visit there as part of my professional development when I was a young teacher. I am starting my 34th year of teaching and I am still inspired by what I learned that day. Here are a few take away from CPESS that I am thinking about right now as I prepare for school – make time to sit around a table and talk with your colleagues about good teaching, ask students what they want to know, everyone needs to work in the service of others, teaching often feels like a three ring circus, join in! Thanks Deborah for telling Al Adams, who was my Head of School, “yes, of course you can send a young teacher to spend the day with us.” Another thing I learned from you was to always open my door to any young person who wants to spend the day.

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