Monday June 1, 2009
Wheatley students wrote letters to mayor asking for help
Mayor Jerry Abramson handed out “demolition diplomas” today to fifth grade students at Wheatley Elementary to commemorate their role in helping to tear down a vacant house near their school. The mayor and students cheered as a demolition crew began razing the home.
“What a great way to end the school year, and to end their time as students at Wheatley – to see the results of their hard work and persistence,” Abramson said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”
Last year, as fourth graders in Leandra Torra’s class, the students wrote letters to the mayor asking for his help in cleaning up a dilapidated home across the street from the school.
“The kids explained in great detail why this house was a hazard to them,” said Torra. “They didn’t like the exposed wires, the abandoned tires, the stray dogs. Many of them have to cross the street in front of the house, and they knew it wasn’t a safe structure.”
Abramson sent the letters to the Department of Inspections, Permits and Licenses to begin the lengthy process of citing and eventually condemning the property. Beth Bishop coordinated the city’s response, which at one point included taking the house’s occupant to court.
Bishop wanted the students to see the process in action – and when JCPS couldn’t provide a bus to take the kids to the courthouse for a hearing about the house’s occupant, Bishop paid for a bus out of her own pocket. The students’ letters were submitted to the judge, and the home’s occupant was sent to jail.
“It was really important for these students to see how their letters got the ball rolling on improving this abandoned property,” Bishop said. “It became my goal to make sure this case found a resolution by the time they left Wheatley.”
Two days before the fifth graders graduated, the house came tumbling down.
“I love to see young people getting involved in the democratic process, and I was thrilled to see the impact the students had on removing this eyesore from their community,” Abramson said. “It’s important for our citizens—young and old—to know that they have a voice in government and that they can make a difference. This is a lesson they'll remember for the rest of their lives.”