Monday, December 08, 2003

Your Name in Lights, Your School in Flames

Back when I was working at my former employer, I used to carpool with Ed. Ed was a native Californian (“I don’t want to live anywhere that there’s weather”) but even if he had come from Maine or Minnesota he would have been a classic Silicon Valley Supergeek, subvariant Clean and Wholesome. The short haircut and guileless blue eyes of an astronaut. Eagle Scout. EMT. Got his degree from UC Santa Cruz, a college best known for its mascot: a banana slug. Professionally he was a systems architect and a brilliant one. (He was hired back in the days when my company hired only geniuses.) He kept a Devil Duckie on his computer at work.

In his free time, he was a professional DJ and a technical expert for several high-school theatre programs. Several times a year our usual ride-home routine would change for a week or so, as he put the finishing touches on the light and sound systems for a school play. When Pioneer High School started its own small radio station, Ed set up the playlists and the computer system.

So I thought of him first when I heard that the million-dollar Performing Arts Center had burned Thanksgiving weekend in a five-alarm blaze that brought out more than a hundred firefighters.

It was arson, but accidental arson. Kids being stupid, basically. Unfortunately, the consequences are serious.

The San Jose School District is already facing a $10 million budget deficit. The district supports a magnet school for performing arts, so Pioneer’s drama program is mainly supported by the work and contributions of parents and friends. The parents even get into the act by performing in benefit shows. They call themselves the Glue Factory.

Some words from Steve Dini, the veteran drama director at Pioneer High School:
After the devastating fire at the performing arts complex last Sunday, I thought I had literally been burned alive. Sets were destroyed. Lights and microphones melted with memories of past shows. A decade's worth of work went up in flame.

And, then it started. A trickle at first, with an e-mail here, a phone message there. Now, a torrent. Dozens of calls. Hundreds of e-mails. Several personal visits. Each from a person wanting to help Pioneer with money, time, love and prayers. . . .

There is a sadness and a sense of loss, yes. But, at the same time, there is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we live in a such a giving, caring selfless community. My heart rejoices in your generosity, love and almost fanatical desire to see this department rise again. It will. That is a promise.

Some of my most cherished high school memories are of doing theatre. I was a geeky kid, but I found a place in the excitement and hard work of stagecraft. The pleasure went on through college, where I had several good roles as well as doing almost every other backstage job. I learned practical skills, made lifelong friends, and had a wonderful time in a safe atmosphere—exactly what teenagers need.

So you can see why the volunteers—not to mention the students—are deeply invested in this program.

And you can be, too. Donations may be sent to the San Jose Unified Educational Foundation, 855 Lenzen Ave., San Jose 95126. Write Pioneer Fund on the memo line.

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