Thursday I went on a pre-Friday scouting trip.
I am working on three class projects this fall: a unit on home constructions with ties to our Casa Verde Builder Program (CVB), a fundraising project to benefit the Ronald McDonald house, and a cemetery clean-up scheduled for November 1st.
Monday, I sent an email to the program leaders responsible for the last cemetery clean-up. I wanted information on the location, logistics, and most of all, the safety of the cemetery. I am from New Orleans and cemeteries in New Orleans are tourist attractions and also places where you get robbed!
The responses from the email were not good. The first email warned of poison ivy. The second was a caution about the number of syringes found around the graveyard. Finally, I received a message about crack pipes with a suggested list of tools including chainsaws. Outlook: not good. I envisioned my students covered in festering rashes with cuts from drug paraphernalia while trapped in an isolated cemetery. News headlines read – “service project gone so wrong. “
On Thursday, I consulted CVB about the location of the cemetery. I found out it was located in the same Montopolis neighborhood where CVB was currently working. This was exciting because I would be able to visit the cemetery and then walk around the corner to the CVB construction site to collect information and photos for my home construction portfolio unit.
I was scared, the whole cemetery-crack- pipe- poison- ivy warning was off putting, but I drove to the Montopolis neighborhood anyway (that’s what teachers do). The cemetery was located in East Austin. The neighborhood was run down, but it seemed to have a culture and pride that reminded me of New Orleans. I saw many family owned restaurants and even a snocone stand. This was a good sign because where there is local food, and not chain restaurants, I know there is a neighborhood culture.
The cemetery was more of a lot on a run-down street. The grass was so high that you could hardly see the tombstones. With a quick look, passers would register it as a vacant blighted field. It wasn’t scary. It was sad.
I walked around the perimeter. I photographed tombstones. I thought about the promotional materials that my students would make with the sad photos of neglected tombstones. “Want to make this better? Adopt a grave!”
I walked two blocks to the CVB construction house. The walk from the cemetery to the CVB worksite was a dramatic transition. I literally left a run-down cemetery and ended up on a street of new construction. Not just new, but hopeful. The houses were small and well-built energy efficient with solar panels. The yards were well-kept with beautiful native plants decorating the edges of the curved walk-ways.
I took a deep breath and walked in the door of the latest CVB project. A few students were working on tasks around the house, but it was basically complete. It was beautiful! Open and airy- I knew my students would be excited about the potential of planning a house after they saw such a fine finished product!
I left the CVB street after taking a final picture of the CVB lot where the next home would be constructed. This construction would begin in two weeks. My timing could not have been more perfect. My construction portfolio would be perfectly aligned with the timing of CVB construction.
Even if the cemetery was a complete failure, I knew that the CVB work site would be intriguing.