Editor's Note: Today this letter was posted on Facebook's 10591 page by Sheila Conklin, School Trustee, reposted here with permission. It's a letter written by a 2006 graduate of Sleepy Hollow High School, Jennifer Dondiego, and especially timely for .
Dear Residents of the Tarrytowns,
As an alumna of class of 2006, I feel the need to address our community after having been “out in the world” for six years now. As a child reaches adulthood and begins to appreciate and cherish the parents who once seemed so hopeless, I have a similar relationship with the community that raised me. It is beginning to dawn on me the enormity of the education I received in the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns and how privileged I am. As a student here, I had my complaints, I saw the ways the schools and villages do not meet my highest ideals. After living in major metropolitan cities and suburbs in the U.S. and Europe, and attending more than my share of higher education, I am completely blown away by the uniqueness of my upbringing.
I was raised in a school district that practices pluralism: I was taught we are all okay. We grew up together at the intersection of staggering wealth and the working poor, where dozens of heritages are celebrated from Italian and Irish to Ecuadorian and Dominican, where religious differences do not divide, where sexual orientation doesn’t have to be a big deal and gender is not seen as a barrier to success.
I grew up largely unaware of how divisive these issues are in the rest of the world until I moved away. I grew up largely unaware how unusual it is that our special needs students are treated with a good deal of deference by their peers. I grew up largely unaware of how completely extraordinary is the level of dedication our teachers show, how invested our staff is in our well-being as whole people and how difficult it is to learn in an environment that lacks that. I didn’t realize that other student’s my age didn’t learn typing, html coding, and advanced computer proficiency, that we had computers in classrooms before most of our peers nationwide because of the foresight of our administration. I didn’t know until recently that the first Montessori school in the United States was founded in Tarrytown, but it confirms my sense of this area as an epicenter of cutting edge education.
The intensity of our commitment to education in the Hudson Valley is stunning, even without comparison to the travesties in other places. I grew up largely unaware of how the local history we learned shaped my values. We learned, among others, about two of the greatest American philanthropists, John Rockefeller and especially Andrew Carnegie, who endowed higher education as a means of promotion for lower classes and minorities, funded research and the arts and built libraries. We went to the to learn about local literary and cultural icons, pioneers of education and industry, women who took the lead, and patriots who have served our country. We learned about a community that incorporated the ultra-wealthy, sharecroppers, indentured servants, and slaves in the 1600s, later to become a stop on the Underground Railroad, and now a thriving multicultural community. According to the Historical Society, our public schools have always been integrated.
I am in awe that our community has done so naturally what many communities still struggle to do. The Tarrytowns have been ahead of our time at every step in the progressive efforts toward human dignity and advancement. I was raised by this community with a sense of the importance of philanthropy and giving back; I was educated by this district in my whole person; I was infused with values of respect, appreciation of diversity, and curiosity about the beliefs and values of others.
There is always more work to be done, but I cannot state strongly enough how the rest of the world I have seen has made me at times overwhelmed to the point of tears with gratitude that I was raised and educated in a town that seems more precious and exemplary the longer I live away from it.
Please, continue to invest in the kind of education I received, and teach your children to appreciate the uniqueness of the world view they are afforded here. When they go off to college, they will discover how truly privileged they are to be raised and educated here in Tarrytown.