When the new Richmond Avenue School in Atlantic City opened its doors to the public on Jan. 2, the school's principal, Gabrielle Caldwell, was the first face that excited students saw. Following a warm greeting, students were led to their brand new, state-of-the-art classrooms, and the school day went forward. There was no chaos, only order. Those who have been taught by Caldwell or who have worked with her would not be surprised. Order is her style.
An Atlantic City native, born and raised in the city's toughest neighborhoods, she has served as both an educator and administrator in its public schools for decades, instilling in young people the belief that they could be anything they wanted to be. Through her own strong will, her belief in herself and the motto that "failure is not an option," Caldwell has influenced many, even the adults who have worked with her.
While graves are being dug and larger prisons are being planned for the children of Atlantic City, Caldwell had a vision for something else, something greater. The new Richmond Avenue School was part of that vision. While the design and construction of the new school was a collaborative effort, its foundation is much deeper. Anyone who knows Caldwell knows her unwavering commitment to the children of Atlantic City, and her desire to provide them with a future where failure is not an option, where prison is not an option, and where success is something to strive for.
This new school is more than a building with an expensive price tag. It is a gift to the city from which generations to come will benefit. It is a place where young people will discover what they can be, do and achieve in life. And every student who succeeds as a result of this building will be a legacy of Caldwell's leadership, mentoring and motivation.
Devan Blackwell teaches Basic Skills Reading at Richmond Avenue School.