In my 45-second elevator pitch about my Columbus Foundation fellowship position with Cristo Rey HS, I often finish by explaining that the school is housed in the old Ohio School for the Deaf building, located right next to the Topiary Park. People’s faces often light up in recognition and comment on its beautiful historic architecture. I can’t help but enthusiastically agree. It’s almost unfair that I was placed with a host site with such an awesome mission and I can feel as if I go to work at Hogwarts every day.
That being said, I’ve taken some time to look up a bit of history for the Ohio Deaf School and the time of its inhabitance of 400 E. Town Street (it has since moved to its 130-acre site on Columbus’ north side). I found a neat description of the buildings historical background on the Topiary Park website (http://www.topiarypark.org/old-deaf-school.html) and the first thing that caught my eye was the very first header: “How Ohio Made Education History.” Huh, that sounds familiar. But I’ll come back to that.
When the Ohio Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1829, it was one of only five such institutions in the United States and it was also the first to be entirely supported by state government as a public institution. As the school thrived, the neighborhood grew and thrived as well until 1943 when a commission recommended the relocation of the campus. After the school left, the neighborhood began its decline, and though it may not be directly correlated to the school’s relocation, it still took several decades for the area to see a renaissance. In the 1970s community groups were formed to preserve and restore the historic Town-Franklin neighborhood but by the early 1980s the buildings were vacant and in disrepair.
Fast-forward 30 years and $18 million in renovations, the old Ohio School for the Deaf building retains its ornate architecture and hardwood floors while being updated with the replacement of more than 300 windows and the addition of a chapel and state-of-the-art teaching tools and science and music labs. All set for the new Cristo Rey students to move in!
This information led to my reflection of Cristo Rey Columbus’ impact, not only on its students, but also within its community. The Ohio School for the Deaf tore down a significant barrier with its presence in Columbus as it redefined “education” by making it accessible for a wider population. Here we are, a century later, and Cristo Rey Columbus has ambitiously set out to do the exact same thing–serve the underprivileged in the Columbus community to increase their access to a valuable education experience. This almost seems too fitting of a symbolic connection between the two institutions, don’t you think?
How lucky am I to be a part of this revolutionary education model and to experience their first few years trying to navigate their place in the Columbus education environment. Further, the community is finally seeing a revitalization of the Olde Towne East area of Columbus. Similar to the heading for a historical background of the Ohio School for the Deaf, I can imagine Cristo Rey Columbus boasting the exact language in years to come with one small change: “How Columbus Made Education History.”