I've been learning about the Jacqueline M. Walsh High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. A charter school founded in 2005, it became the first public high school in Rhode Island to accept applicants based on their audition or portfolio. Their culturally diverse student body pursues rigorous academics with individualized work in their chosen field: visual arts, dance, music, or theatre.
Based in the Pawtucket Armory, the JMW High School has a mission:
To provide an intensive, high-quality, conservatory-style high school education in and through the artsand a vision:
To fully challenge and nurture high school students with exceptional talent in the arts who wish to pursue careers in the visual and performing arts.
JMW is the only school in Rhode Island with art programs approved as "Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs of Study." What an ideal school this could be for "Jenny," already a performing musician when she graduated from eighth grade in 2010.
But her two parents disagreed.
One of them, "Barbara," had money for lawyers to bring an emergency ex parte motion and persuade a judge to award her temporary sole custody in 2008. Everything went downhill from there as Barbara’s lawyers tried to stop the girl from communicating with her other mother, “Tracy,” who had nurtured her talents since early childhood.
Tracy was forbidden to attend Jenny's track meets, performances, and eighth grade graduation. Barbara confiscated a basketful of cell phones from their daughter’s attempts to contact Tracy.
How would Jenny’s world be different if she were at the JMW High School, a total environment of students and professionals devoted to the arts, where she could establish long-term contacts and relationships?
Last Wednesday, Tracy tried to persuade the judge: It’s not too late for Jenny to audition for next year.
Barbara’s attorney, Cynthia Gifford, minimized the loss: After all, Jenny plays in the band at her local high school. And she won a coveted seat in the state symphony orchestra.
Which proves she is motivated to excel and is missing out on one of the finest opportunities this state offers gifted students like her.
It’s too expensive, Gifford counters, as if to say: Why bother? Why encourage this girl to try?
Tracy says it might cost $500 a month, but there are scholarships, and Barbara is paying far more on attorneys to limit Jenny’s options. Tracy says she would gladly move to Pawtucket to cut the cost.
Tracy is a very good parent. But that is not evident in this courtroom, which has grown morbidly sick with sarcasm hurled back and forth between Barbara’s attorney and Tracy.
Barbara’s other attorney, Cherrie Perkins, talks to me today during the break, thanks me for noting her correction last week.
She tells me she is not an evil person. She started out really good, working at the Women’s Resource Center.
I tell her I don’t think she’s evil. I know she’s smart. So why doesn’t she help Jenny go to the JMW High School?
Why not use her compassion and intelligence to protect children from this dismal adversarial system?
"Someone as smart as you doesn't need to be in this line of work, doing this to people."
“I have to make a living,” she says.
Attorney Gifford is mangling the language the way lawyers do. She constructs convoluted questions out of leading statements she wants to get into the record:
Is it not true that the record shows you hold a grudge against Barbara?
I can barely imagine how these verbal gymnastics fry the circuits for someone on the ASD spectrum, like Tracy, who is intensely precise and literal.
Finally Tracy exclaims: "What kind of question is that? I can’t answer yes and I can’t answer no!"