Wayside School, a fictional elementary school imagined by author Louis Sachar, was supposed to be 30 classrooms, one story high. But by mistake it was built straight up 30 stories. Vose Elementary School in Oregon – a real school built in the 1950s – is also directionally challenged. Instead of a linear design, there are two circular units which are connected by a hallway. Younger students are easily confused. Some strategically placed signs with arrows would probably be helpful. There are hundreds of scholarly journals devoted to the art and science of wayfinding which is basically a system for finding your way around a city or building like a school.
Wayside School’s idiosyncrasies – three kids all named Eric, a teacher who turns children into apples (then back again) and no 19th floor – are entertaining, amusing, and fun to read aloud.
The 54-year-old Vose School building, on the other hand, has several key safety and sanitation issues that students and teachers are finding a real bummer such as no sprinkler system, excessively noisy heaters, clogged bathrooms that smell like sewage and insulation falling from the ceiling. The cafeteria, gym and library are cramped and crowded.
While fixing up Wayside School would probably suck all of the humor out of the series, Vose can be fixed with several million dollars in repairs. Unfortunately, like many older schools, school administrators are pondering a complete tear down.
To me, some of the best children’s books are slightly scary, unpredictable and quirky. Kids appreciate stretching their imaginations. They like funny-sounding names. They’re okay when everything doesn’t work out perfectly. In the real world, we’re frustrated when we struggle with solutions. And we’ve all been exposed to a risky environment from time to time. We hope our kids won’t spend theirs every day in one.
The fate of Vose might not be in our hands at least right now, but we can help by generating awareness for the plight of our aging schools, research grants and fundraising techniques and explore historical status opportunities.
For now, it shouldn’t take too much effort and energy to post a few signs and labels pointing us in the right direction.