February 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Costa Rica: Elementary Education: Real Estate Development: Service: The Capital Times: Costa Rica RPCV Troy Dassler's first and second grade class hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Elementary Education: February 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Costa Rica: Elementary Education: Real Estate Development: Service: The Capital Times: Costa Rica RPCV Troy Dassler's first and second grade class hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

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Costa Rica RPCV Troy Dassler's first and second grade class hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

Costa Rica RPCV Troy Dassler's first and second grade class hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

Costa Rica RPCV Troy Dassler's first and second grade class hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

Ridgewood dreams

Children hope to put fires, vandalism behind them

By Cliff Miller
Correspondent for The Capital Times
February 24, 2005

Caption: Leopold Elementary first and second graders class of teacher Troy Dassler with writer Cliff Miller. (photo by Henry A. Koshollek/The Capital Times)

Mr. Gary Gorman, Developer, Madison, Wis.

Dear Senor Gorman,

We politely invite you to a meeting. We have heard that you may buy our apartments and fix them up. We need to tell you how we wish you would make them safe and comfortable.

Gracias, Mr. Dassler's Class Leopold Elementary School
This is not a real letter. But it is like the letter Troy Dassler's class of bright-eyed first- and second-graders plans to send to Gorman, head of Gorman & Co. Inc., who has an option to buy the Ridgewood Country Club Apartments.

If everything works out, Gorman plans to redevelop the entire complex of some 50 apartment buildings, where many of Dassler's pupils live. He has promised to hold listening sessions with Fitchburg residents to discuss his plans.

I met with Dassler and his class of 15 students this week to thank them for a hefty brown envelope they sent me filled with crayon-drawn thank-you notes for a story I wrote about them a few weeks ago.

The story told how they are afraid but are determined to fight the causes of their fears. They are afraid because they live in the Ridgewood apartment complex, where fires have broken out four times in less than a year. Their drawings, filled with fire and smoke, reveal that fear with innocent frankness.

They are afraid because vandals keep breaking the windows, because there are holes in walls and ceilings as well as broken plumbing in some apartments, and because fire alarms don't work.

They are afraid because at least two of the shy, bright-faced kids and their families were made temporarily homeless by fires in their buildings. They don't want those things to happen again.

They and their teacher have prepared a PowerPoint presentation that they hope to show to Gorman. It's filled with more crayon drawings and actual photographs of damage from fires and deterioration.

They have made a model dream apartment complex out of colored craft paper, glued into a shallow cardboard box with green grass and a big tree, the street outside with a bus passing by and a drawing of their school on Post Road, on the Madison side across from Fitchburg.

They also want to show their dream to Gorman.

Dassler is bilingual, having lived as a youth in Costa Rica, where he went to high school and later served in the Peace Corps. Some of the children speak both English and Spanish. Some are newcomers to this country and speak hardly any English. Dassler speaks to the class in Spanish and translates for the kids to visitors.

One frame in the show includes a photograph of one of the fires. "Many apartments have burned and we are mad," says the script on the screen. "We do not want the burned and ugly apartments in our neighborhood. The apartments need to become safe and clean."

The kids made the buildings in their model from pink, yellow, green and lavender construction paper, using geometric shapes they have been learning about: Cubes, pyramids, cones and cylinders give it a futuristic look. They drew windows and doors and described what is inside the buildings in the new neighborhood.

For the PowerPoint show they also drew dream houses, but they illustrated their frightening memories as well. Many of their drawings are full of flames and fire trucks, black police cars and ambulances with red crosses on the sides.

Dassler said social workers and counselors visit the school twice a week to help the kids deal with their fears and other problems.

Pedro's dream house has multi-colored walls and a shining red star on the roof peak. It resembles a church.

Ana Victoria drew two houses, one blue and one orange, both with yellow roofs. In her houses, nobody smokes in the apartments or hallways.

A boy adds that they don't smoke or drink beer. They don't break windows, or if they do, the glass is quickly fixed.

Gabriel's house has a pool, security cameras in the hallways (so if fires break out they can be seen) and alarms that always work. There is hot and cold water when you need it, another adds.

David drew four panels showing a fire, someone throwing a ball through a window, two figures fighting and someone falling from a balcony.

A girl shows her drawing of a house with blue sky above, trees and a child nearby. "There will be peace and a lot of love," she tells Dassler in soft Spanish.

In another drawing, a child in a yellow beanbag chair operates an intercom so he can know whether it is safe to "buzz" visitors inside.

Luis wants a castle-like building with a garage, security cameras, an indoor swimming pool and a cat. Others wish for fountains like they have in Chicago, frequent fire drills and "lots of doors so you can leave quickly if there are fires."

Bryan drew a burning house and an ambulance and told how he and his baby brother were in bed when fire broke out and their mother scooped them up in blankets and fled outside.

Erika thanked me for spreading the news of their experiences and feelings. "For that you have made us very happy inside," she wrote in Spanish.

Selene is in a wheelchair and depends on a ventilator. Her dream house has a pool, an elevator, and a Chuck E Cheese in the apartment building.

And one more thing. For little Jesica, Dassler translates, "She hopes there aren't any spiders in there."

When this story was posted in February 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Capital Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Costa Rica; Elementary Education; Real Estate Development; Service



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