For years, Emerson Alternative School was an invisible part of the downtown Oklahoma City community. Thousands drove by the school, but it wasn't discussed, and it wasn't a place folks visited.
The building itself is a rare example of historic architecture that survived the 1970s urban renewal era, and its presence on one of downtown's few hills gives it a stunning view of the skyline.
The school, 715 N Walker, has seen better days. The outside appears grungy and unloved. And if one were to take a closer look at the campus, one might notice that the makeshift “temporary” classroom trailers quit being temporary decades ago and look as if they're unfit for prisoners.
Of course, let's all be honest for a moment. When we think of an alternative school, aren't we thinking about dangerous, delinquent teens? We're thinking back to scary movies portraying schools with littered hallways, graffiti on the walls and quivering teachers terrified of their students.
I admit, at some level, I was guilty of this prejudice. I was wrong. It was about three to four years ago that I was invited to a community meeting at the school. I was stunned to realize how stupid I had been. These were good kids — girls who became pregnant, boys who made bad choices — and the only difference separating them from kids at other schools, in many cases, was that they lacked the support of family and friends that helps so many other kids survive adolescence.
Downtown is filled with great, generous people who shower their time, effort and money onto helping less fortunate folks in the neighborhood. But this school went without such attention for a long, long time.
Since that moment of clarity, I've tried to make up for lost time. Last year, I teamed up with Brianna Bailey (then my rival at the Journal Record), Clifton Adcock (then my rival at The Gazette) and Kelly Chambers (still my rival at OKC Biz) to provide mentoring to the school's journalism class.