As the St. Joseph School District ponders closing one high school, long-time St. Josephites fear it may be the one they once attended.
We are a tribal town. Many of us have allegiances to either Central, Lafayette or Benton. We distinguish ourselves by north town, South Side, midtown or east side.
People ask us where we went to high school like it helps determine who we are, as if our personalities are tied to our high school.
I went to Central, but I don’t know if that makes me much different from someone who went to Lafayette, Benton or LeBlond.
In high school I wore Central blue proudly in sports, but that was because I represented the school. School rivalries in sports made sense. I never cared much about it after I graduated except to cheer on my old school during games. I’m not gonna hold my allegiance to Central against someone from Benton or Lafayette. We’re not competing now.
What does a person who went to Benton act like? How does a person who went to Lafayette or Central act different based on their school? To many people it makes a difference, no matter how trivial. I have friends from all high schools. My wife went to Benton, and our kids went to Central. I have cousins who play sports at Benton and Lafayette. None of that makes a difference in our family dynamic.
No matter what high school we attended and what colors represent them, we all have that St. Joseph patina, a patina that shows our civic longevity more than our school allegiance.
Outsiders can’t tell what high school we attended. When we visit other cities, they can’t tell either. All they know is we’re from Missouri. Our Midwestern patois gives us away.
But it’s time for a change. Our population isn’t growing and our schools aren’t either. Enrollment has dropped 7 percent over the last decade. When students do graduate from one of our high schools most move onto places with more opportunity, which leaves us with an older tax base and fewer kids.
The best idea to me would be to close all high schools and build one larger, up-to-date one. Three aging facilities won’t attract newcomers or retain the kids who left.
When they closed Horace Mann, my grade and middle school, I was heartbroken for only a hot minute before it became the Bartlett Center.
If Central gets torn down I’ll be a little sad too, but not to the extent that its demise or its nostalgia defines me.
Central to me was about the people. Some of us from my graduating class meet for lunch once a month, and we have class reunions every five years. The building is just the place were our memories took root. Besides that, I’m not defined by Central. Some people know I graduated from there, but it doesn’t define me.
If it makes more sense to have one high school for the betterment of our district and city, I’m all for it. I like having three high schools too, but not for the sake of hindering our city’s growth. The success or failure of St. Joseph, where I live, defines me more than a high school.