Up the Down Staircase - November 15 - November 17, 2018

Wellington C Mepham High School


        After selecting Up the Down Staircase as this year's fall production, I grappled with how to stage it: as is or modernized.  Many of the daily aspects of school life portrayed in this work have changed.  Because of e-mail, students are no longer trusted with transporting administrative messages and memos.  Because of photocopiers and Google Classroom, mimeographs are an ancient and forgotten relic.  Because of unions, classrooms are not overcrowded and teachers have what they need.  But then this play is set in a New York City high school—an inner-city high school.  The reality for a school of this kind is vastly different than that of a suburban school like Mepham.  And it was with this realization that I found the solution to my dilemma: I would preserve the original text with only a few minor changes due to casting needs.

        A few months ago, and sporadically since then, the news media covered the recent #RedforEd movement across the country.  Like the Calvin Coolidge High School of Staircase, there are states where education goes severely underfunded, and even in states that strongly support education there are districts—urban and suburban alike—that lack the many amenities we take for granted here.  In districts like these, teachers and administrators deal with with an endless torrent of paperwork, confusion, student issues, criticism, and lack of support.  In districts like these, students deal with the reality of overwhelmed teachers, disengaged administrators, social woes, criticism, and lack of support.  In districts like these, parents deal with the battle to balance work responsibilities, financial demands, raising their children, criticism, and lack of support.  In districts like these—like Sylvia Barrett's Calvin Coolidge High School—all are going up the down staircase, against the current, struggling ever onward.

        I am so grateful.  Grateful to be a teacher, grateful to be teaching here in Bellmore-Merrick, grateful to be working with these students, grateful to be supported by administration, and grateful for the trust and support my students' parents lend to me each and every day.

        Perhaps the one issue raised in Staircase that I believe is the most relevant is compassion.  Simple human compassion.  In all of the issues that I mentioned earlier, the glaring culprit for these woes is a lack of compassion.  I understand; it is difficult.  In environments like these, it is easy for individuals—students and adults alike—to become so caught up in their own daily struggles to survive another day that they forget to be kind to one another.  After all, how can one have time for kindness when one is not given any in return?  The overarching theme for this academic year, as set by Superintendent John DeTommaso, is "where wellness matters"—a follow-up to last year's "connecting kindness to caring."  Bellmore-Merrick, like many other districts, is at the forefront ensuring that its students never go without compassion.  In today's day and age, the simple gesture of compassion dramatically can alter the course of a student's life.

        This leads me to think of those educators whose compassion helped shape me as a person and inspired me to become an educator.  There are those in my primary formative years: Ronelle Bloom, 1st grade; Marilyn Goldberg, 2nd grade; Janet Windbish, 3rd grade; James Kimbis, 4th grade; Dorothy Aiello, 6th grade; Eleanor Liebman, librarian; Jeff Smith, art; Harvey Dagen, music; Maria DeLeo and Sara Ross, Footlights Drama Club; Gary Griggs, principal.  There were a few in middle school as well: Clark Crespi, 7th grade math; Edward Thorpe, 8th grade social studies.  And there are those in my later years: Richard Woods, 9th grade biology; Stephen Minor, 10th grade English; Shari Spanier, 10th grade Spanish; George Grossman, vocal music; Barry Kaplan, Thespian Troupe 132.  Think of your own student experience.  Whose compassion helped and inspired you?

        My ability to recall these individuals so easily and vividly speaks to the impact their compassion made on my life.  I carry their lessons with me, I carry their kindness within me, and I carry a personal mission to do for my students what these teachers did for me.  And for all these reasons and more, I am grateful.

—Edward Grosskreuz, Jr.

Page 33 of 35