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It is a story made for the Christmas season. Two weeks ago, a fire that started in a storage closet damaged part of the chapel and a classroom at St. Paul's Episcopal School in College Point. Fortunately, the children and their teachers escaped without harm. But the fire did substantial damage to the building and destroyed badly needed school supplies, uniforms and costumes for a Christmas pageant.
For a school that has struggled in recent years to keep its doors open, the fire had to be devastating. It will take time and money to restore the 135-year-old school and church that is part of the history of College Point. A blackened stained-glass window may be beyond repair.
But at this dark moment, the community of College Point showed its true colors. As firefighters rushed to the church, stores on College Point Boulevard opened their doors to the children and their teachers, giving them a warm, safe place to wait for their very worried parents. The James Stout Funeral Home offered snacks to the children and the Empire Market provided a refuge from the cold. A neighbor and new mother, Rhonda Castro, provided refuge in her home. Nearby St Fidelis Catholic School and the First Reform Church have offered classroom space to be used until repairs could be made.
"The town of College Point rallied on Thursday like you wouldn't believe," said Irene Gordau, the principal at St. Paul's School.
And while he acknowledged that the fire had put the school in a state of crisis, the Rev. Paul Hamilton said the community has been very gracious. "It's love that heals," he said. "That's what makes people feel safe and secure."
The crisis at St. Paul's is far from over. To get back on its feet, the school will need help and the pastor has asked for urgently needed donations. This is a school worth saving. Many families have made sacrifices to send their children to St. Paul's because they knew their kids would get a high-quality education.
Meanwhile, the people of College Point can take pride in the way this small community came together for a neighbor in need.
Students and educators at four schools in Queens have been accused of cheating on citywide reading and math tests. If these accusation are substatiated, Board of Education may have to fire at least some of the teachers allegedly involved.
But when the dust settles, the Board of Ed must also question whether too much emphasis has been placed on test scores and too little on education. In some classes, teachers have spent weeks, even months, preparing students for the standardized tests. Teachers complain the tests are pushing them to set aside other educational goals. There is no way to measure whether a teacher has touched the hearts and minds of students, filling them with a love of learning. Much of what is most important in teaching cannot be measured on standardized test.
Citywide and statewide tests do serve a purpose. To succeed, children must read and do math at grade level. But the value of a teacher should never be measured by test results alone. The best teachers are those who can excite the imagination and impart a love of learning and a sense of potential and self-worth.
The current system rewards those teachers who sacrificed real learning for non-stop test preparation. That's not cheating. But it's also not education.
©1999 Community Newspaper Group
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