When construction began over four years ago on the new high school wing at Rangeley School, I was perturbed by the fact it was going to be more of the same; brick, drywall, linoleum, and cinder block. The architects of this new wing made a show of asking staff what they would like to see in this new addition and then went and did what was going to be done anyway. Nouveau correctional facility sans barbed wire fencing.

Where was the fireman pole I had suggested and the slide to go down in place of stairs? Where were the mini-stages in the classrooms and round pods in lieu of square prison cells? The requested soft lighting remained the harsh brilliance of the interrogation variety. I moved into my classroom and got busy with the feng shui and ambience, attempting to offset the reality that another opportunity to create a setting more aligned with civility than with captivity had been missed.

There was one design suggestion, however, that had been included: a door connecting my classroom with Maryam Emami’s; history with English; melding disciplines with a confluent philosophy; the humanities. Maryam and I have explored the unanswerable question of Who are we? by sifting through a trove of available clues together with our students year after year. Blessed as we are, art teacher Sonja Johnson, would help guide us all through the concrete by constructing abstract designs, and vice-versa, pinning down the abstract by making it concrete. Science may tell us how we live but art tells us why.

Our school deserves a better name than the sterility of Rangeley Lakes Regional School, something more in line with what we do here as a regular practice. We navigate and negotiate, we collaborate and calibrate, connected to our immediate surroundings and the greater world at-large by way of evidentiary dialogue, reaching understanding and agreement through deliberation and compromise. The name would not be of a single person but of an entire ideal. Maybe something like Rangeley Civil School.

I’m sitting in Room 161 preparing to walk out one last time. I’m listening for the specter of students’ voices enjoying some pre-class banter, someone always asking, “What are we doing today, Straub?” What we did every class, adding to our thought factory. I’ll leave the keys on the desk and punch in the code arming the alarm before exiting. I’ll turn and give what had been my home away from home one final look, and I’ll see what I’ve always seen, a sanctuary of hope.

I don’t know. I suppose I’ve done my time and after 17 years I’m re-entering the civilian mainstream. A popular question frequently asked of me is What’s next. The standard reply is I don’t know. Do any of us really know what’s next? I do know that I’m writing this, in what will no longer be my classroom the second I step out of it, to stall. I have loved it all so much, every detail, even including running concessions, which I disliked at the time with vehemence. Mostly, though, it’s the kids I’m going to miss working with as we navigated, negotiated, calibrated, collaborated, and connected. And that door I could walk through and see the smiling genius of Ms. Emami, a portal to the ages, will remain open as we continue trying to answer that question, Who are we. Simple: We are friends. Hell, I’m even going to miss the brick, cinder block, and linoleum. Turns out what may look like a prison is actually the place we’re allowed to be free.


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