Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Letter from a Bloomington high school student to the students of Aurora Alternative High School

Today, the Bloomington Herald-Times published a guest column written by Victoria Ison, a student at Bloomington High School North. The column is framed as a letter to students at Aurora Alternative High School, which is slated for closure at the end of this school year as a money-saving measure.

This piece, like almost all of the Herald-Times' content, is not available to the general public, as the paper has made the foolish decision to erect a paywall. Yet another lesson to learn from the ongoing issue of budget cuts across the MCCSC school system is that more access to information is better than less access, and in times like these, the Herald-Times' paywall begins to look increasingly obstructive. Forcing people to pay to access information about issues that directly affect them is a barrier to civic engagement, plain and simple, and the Herald-Times should be ashamed of itself.

On a related note, I've decided to run the entire text of Victoria Ison's letter below.

Please be aware that Ison is a high school student and that this column addresses a difficult and emotionally charged issue. On the Herald-Times site, several readers posted what I consider to be cruel and hurtful comments in response to Ison's post, and I'm not going to let that happen here. Whatever you think of her columnn, Ison should be commended for her honesty and willingness to present her ideas on a complicated debate.

Opinion: Aurora students impress a student who doesn’t know them
March 3, 2010

To the students of Aurora Alternative High School:

We’re pretty much the same ages, you and I. I don’t really know any of you, but that’s not uncommon; there are thousands of youth in this community, after all. If you went to North, I might know you. Or I might not. There are a lot of kids.

But now, I need you to forgive me.

You see, before the budget crisis — or at least, before the public was aware of the budget crisis — I didn’t think about you very much. Hardly at all, actually.

Sure, I saw articles in the newspaper at times. You were involved with Martin Luther King Jr. Day volunteer activities. You stuffed a bus and wrapped gifts for Fairview kids. Your Facebook page popped up in my Newsfeed.

But I didn’t become a fan. You were far away — if not in miles, in accessibility. My everyday life was a blur: home and school and back again. You never crossed my mind. Then I saw the name of your school on the proposed list of our district’s budget cuts. And still, I gave it just a passing glance.

It wasn’t until the Tuesday night board meeting that I thought any more about you. I was sitting there with my teacher/mother, listening to the public comments and half-heartedly taking U.S. history notes. Occasionally, I would look up and look around, noticing the appearances of the various impassioned speakers.

I was surprised to see you there. I was surprised by some of your hats, your earrings, your fashion statements. I was most surprised to see your tears.

Some of you got up and spoke. Eloquently. Emotionally. It was so evident that you were fighting for something you believed in, something you needed.

You talked about being “broken,” about being hurt. You talked about needing an escape, wanting to run away. You talked about having to attend any other high school — including my very own North — with measures of overwhelming dread.

I didn’t want to listen to you.

I didn’t want to see your pain and have to admit my ignorance. I didn’t want to have to struggle to try not to judge you.

Because I was. I was sitting confidently in my seat, wearing my track team sweatshirt, doing homework for a class that I have an A grade and a zillion friends in, judging you.

And I am sorry.

I am sorry for being self-absorbed into oblivion, for not noticing your pain or having empathy for your problems. Before you spoke, I didn’t realize that high school could be such a terrible kind of place. I didn’t realize that teenagers — people my own age — could feel hopeless like you said you did. I am sorry for anything I’ve done to make North such a hard place to be.

I am sorry for fitting in and forgetting you.

I need to make it up to you, and I need you to tell me how. Your school is going to be inside my school’s building next year. If you want to be left alone, I’ll understand. But know I’ll still be thinking about you, wondering about you, rooting for you. You’ve impressed me with your passion, humbled me with your tears. There’s no forgetting you now.

And if you’re willing, well, our schools are going to be much closer now. And we’re pretty much the same ages, you and I. We should be friends.

Victoria Ison is a junior at Bloomington High School North and a former biweekly correspondent for The Herald-Times “In School” section. She can be reached at


christian said...

We need more of Victoria's brand of honesty in - and in order to sustain - our civic society. Thanks for posting this!

Kinkead's Kids said...

I know Victoria, she was a student of mine when she was 11 so I am a bit prejudiced and hurt by the comments on the HT - she is honestly expressing her ideas and she really means it - she wants to be more open to all the beautiful students from Aurora. I, too, was pleasantly impressed with Aurora students' speeches and impassioned pleas(but I have had several students pass through your beautiful environment.)

Anonymous said...

Very emotional and honest piece, thus attracts positive attention to the problem in place. But IMHO for Aurora's educational process the separation is part of the business, an important part. Therefore Victoria seems weird in trying to accept and allow them in her territory and her heart next year. I clearly see the best intentions in saying the above, but the only way to truly help those "alternative" people is to join their fight for their school. They don't ask for acceptance, do they.


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