An Impressive 2015 LHS Graduate on why LHS should remain downtown!

Elmer Martinez wrote this on Facebook! A great example of the quality students from LHS.

Dear Lowell City Council, School Committee and fellow Citizens,

First I’d like to point out that my opinions are informed by my personal experiences in relation to my time at Lowell High school.

I am a graduate of the Lowell High School Graduating Class of 2015 and was blessed enough to be President my class. I was born and raised in Lowell mainly in the Pawtucketville neighborhood. I currently attend Emerson College on Boylston street Boston, MA studying “Stage Design/Technology” with a concentration in Lighting Design and a Dance Minor. I strongly feel that the high school should remain in the downtown location for the following reasons.

Let’s begin with the benefits of the location as a service to the Lowell High School experience as well as how the High School benefits the entities adjacent to it. Some feel that not having a high school with a traditional campus (outdoor fields and private parking etc.) is a disservice to its students. I have always believed the city is our campus in the same way that Boston is my campus now. Listed here are invaluable resources I had access to as a student based on the current location:

1)Eateries/ Small Local Businesses before and after classes
2)Pollard Memorial Public Library
3)Robert B. Kennedy Bus Transfer Center (15 min walk) + all the bus stops in the area
4) Middlesex Community College Buildings for programs and meetings.
5)Umass Lowell Buildings for programs and meetings.
6)Access to some of the most beautiful historic pathways, landmarks, museums and monuments for a variety of courses including photography classes.

Moving on to local businesses and how they benefit from the current location of LHS. We must admit that the people funding the businesses in and around downtown aren’t the college students who are neck deep in debt as it is, nor do we see an abundance of working class middle aged Lowellians filling the shops. The lifeblood of these businesses are the high school students that pack the stores with their extra spending money from part time jobs and allowances that don’t go to adult bills and responsibilities. It doesn’t take much to see that the shift in foot traffic in downtown from the school months compared summer is nothing short of drastic.

Why do stores and restaurants that have a target market of ages 25 plus keep going out of business? It’s because those demographics aren’t going to downtown for their outings or goods in the numbers needed to support these establishments and the city knows it. Why are we pouring so much money into the tourist attractions like the Lowell fun facts around downtown and the Lowell walks and lighting up the canal ways? The city has realized that they need to find a way to supplement the lack of foot traffic after school goes out because the LHS students are the business.

Next, I’ll address culture as it pertains to the proximity of community establishments/organizations in the area in a non-economic sense. My friends and I grew up with modest household incomes or “broken” home lives. This included realities like single parents, grandparents doing their best, homelessness or the threat of eviction, getting involved in drug dealing to make money to help out/ getting legitimate jobs to help the house or have spending money or just to eat. Many of us are first generation Lowellians or came here when we were very young. Having immigrant parents that had to work all day(or parents that didn’t speak English so had to work hard labor jobs for less wages and long hours), a large part of our upbringing involved after school programs and community organizations that are adjacent if not located at LHS. Some of the organizations that kept us off the streets include:

1)Teen Block / Lowell Community Health Center
2)The Boys and Girls Club of America
3)Angkor Dance Troupe
4)LHS 21st Century Compass Program
5)The 30 plus Clubs, Orgs and Teams offered at LHS
7)Girls Inc.

These organizations are within 25 min walking distance from the current LHS campus if not one short accessible bus ride away. A move to the proposed Cawley Stadium location would cause these walkable distances to become things of the past for students who don’t have cars (most of them). The close proximity of these locations made it possible for many students to feel safe walking the city in groups or alone on their way to the mentioned programs. Getting picked up by a guardian or taking the bus from any nearby stop after rehearsals, meetings or practices was made convenient due to the downtown location being equidistant.

On that note, I’d like to highlight the huge role that the school being equidistant to all the neighborhoods of the city plays in this debate. Over one third of the students at Lowell High walk to school. For me and countless other Pawtucketville residents even taking the city bus meant a 20-35-minute commute due to UML North Campus student blockades and morning commute traffic. The bus sometimes was late because of this or too early and would leave us behind to get to the station on time. The walking distance from my end of town (Varnum Ave/Pawtucket Blvd closer to Lowell General and the Voke) is between 45min to 1 hour and 20 min. Imagine being a Pawtucketville kid trying to get up extra early to ride about an hour to the Cawley location on a packed bus and if you miss your bus you will be late, have to scramble to find a ride that also has to get through the morning traffic to the other side of the city, take an Uber or a taxi (with what money?) or God forbid walk 2 HOURS.

From my personal experience of having to walk home after a late rehearsal or to school to the current location I can assure you it’s not a fun time. Especially in the winter with a bag full of books/ another bag with equipment for sports, materials for projects, change of clothes for gym or dance. All this to then be expected to go to classes for 7 hours while being attentive, participating, being good natured, going to after school activities or work, traveling back home another hour to do homework and find time to rest. This move to Cawley would essentially encourage students from my area to put more serious consideration into attending the Vocational high school based on convenience alone.

If the new location came along with a feasible proposal for appropriate transportation that wouldn’t bankrupt the taxpayers, who are already mostly people who live below or around the poverty line, MAYBE I could give ground on the issue of distance that moving the High School would involve. However, that is not currently the case.

To add on, the students who would benefit the most from the proposed move to Cawley are the students from the Belvidere neighborhood who represent the minority of the school’s demographic as White, predominantly well off financially (especially in comparison to their counterparts from most any other section of the city) and from lineages of old Lowellian families/ families that have been in the states for four or more generations. Why would we move the school to a location that benefits the smallest population of students which also have the best starting points in our society for success in post high school institutions that were built by people who look like them on the backs of people who look like the rest of the student body. What message are we sending as a city that prides itself on its diversity and inclusion.

The downtown location plays a part in leveling the playing field for everyone. LHS also houses many summer and night programs that would be affected by these same transportation/demographic issues if the school were to move.

My final point rests in my personal experiences with Lowell High School and the Cyrus Irish Auditorium. I am currently one of the only freelance lighting/sound design entities and in some cases, freelance technical director that helps Lowell High School put on its Spring Musicals, Winter and Spring Dance Concerts, Festivals and special events. I also started working at the age of 15 as a stagehand and lighting team member at the Lowell Summer Music Series which uses the auditorium in the summer as a rain location (What would be the new rain location if the Irish is not maintained by the high school?). I have been involved in the Lowell High School Fine Arts program since the 7th grade as a volunteer. I started performing in the 8th grade with the high school program, performed all four years as a member of the Sound Impressions Show Choir, One year as a Drummer/ Trombonist in the Red Raiders Marching band/orchestra, and two years in the Red Raiders Dance Ensemble and dance program. I Started designing/engineering sound and lights sophomore year in that 1600 seat house through to today.

I can count on one hand the number of people who know the intricacies of working in this facility, its potential and how to optimally use it as well as I do. Sacrificing the Irish auditorium which already isn’t large enough to hold half the student body for a space that would potentially be half its size at best is a disservice to the entire Lowell community. Moving the school would also sacrifice the newly refurbished Burgoyne theater in the Freshman academy building. Both spaces have industry standard lighting units and one has brand new everything. The new auditorium wouldn’t include a balcony or the same type of stage fly rigging system. As well as the dimensions of the stage itself are very ample allowing for more elaborate shows and sets. The dance program hosts over 400 students and counting with shows that exceed the 1600 person capacity every season. We don’t need a smaller space we need a bigger space for a flourishing art department that would be snubbed out by lack of performance facilities to accommodate the growth of these programs which currently match and exceed collectively in student participation all other extra curricular programs including all sports teams collectively and the ROTC. Logically the Auditorium is more valuable than a new field in almost every way. Furthermore, it has the potential to be rented out and make the school an extreme amount of money.

Going from a 3500-4000 person high school in an urban center prepared me to go on to a college in the downtown Boston. The large,urban school experience allowed me to gain skills that translated and made me better prepared for a real world urban setting than many of the students I met who came from small suburban schools. I was less overwhelmed- more secure- alert and ready in crowds- I gained street smarts through experience- I understand how to work with large groups and speak in a less narrow mannered tone about topics that affect different people in different intersectional ways. If we want more intimate classrooms for LHS let’s hire more teachers and pay them better wages for all their work. Build a school with more classrooms to allow the 3500 plus students to be more broken down and hire more teachers of diverse backgrounds to make a living at this institution and be able to afford the shops and eateries in downtown with their families every weekend to keep these local gems in business.

Moving the Lowell High school to the proposed Cawley location would endanger the survival of the downtown small businesses which rely on the symbiotic relationship with the students to a bulk of their income. This same income would be moved out of Lowell and into the business in Tewksbury that surround the Cawley area. It would make it much more difficult for students to attend after school programs with organizations that are currently no more than 25 min walk or a single bus ride away. It would tilt the
socio-economic and political balance in the youth culture to favor those already more advantaged by the sheer design of our society. Namely the minority, better off than the rest of their school mates white students in the Belvidere neighborhood.It would make transportation the students and taxpayers biggest nightmare. If there is even a solid transportation plan proposed this might change…if there were any transportation plan period. Also, the move would ultimately sacrifice the outstanding non-replaceable performing arts facilities that are unique to LHS and we’d be throwing away a cash cow (golden goose).

Furthermore, leaving downtown will NOT aid students to go on into the world as prepared as they can be. The downtown area is part of the culture of being a student in Lowell. Why does UML keep growing and buying more property in the Downtown area? They understand that a well-rounded education includes exposure to real world environments, situations and resources. One of the most important lessons Lowell High taught me was to be myself. As an alumnus, I now wish to echo that lesson to the Administrators, City Council, School Committee and my fellow Lowellians. We aren’t a suburb, we are The Mill City. Be Unapologetically Lowell. #TheDTLocationIsTheOnlyLocation — with Richard Howe and 2 others.