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The National Trust for Historic Preservation is inviting the nation to join it in working to save neighborhood schools, saying ste ady erosion of students to regional schools with large campus settings is damaging the fabric that historically held many communities together.

Strong neighborhood schools also tend to support surrounding real estate values because of the sense of community imparted by a school that caters to local children, it says.

The Trust has announced that its Preservation Week 2001 will have as its theme, "Restore, Renew, Rediscover Your Historic Neighborhood Schools." The week will be commemorated May 13-19.

"At the heart of every American community is the neighborhood school," said National Trust President Richard Moe. "In this age of sprawl, it's more important than ever to rediscover the role historic neighborhood schools play in towns and cities across the nation.

"If your school is endangered, fight to save it. If it's been saved, celebrate it. Preservation Week is a time for students, families and communities to come together and rally round these marvelous and irreplaceable neighborhood anchors."

The Trust is taking to task communities that have given over their identities to "mini-marts and express lanes."

Before the age of urban sprawl, the Trust laments, "children walked to school. They passed friends, neighbors and familiar merchants on their way to a school built just for them in the heart of town, a school whose style and scale reflected the spirit of the neighborhood. Children grew up knowing they were cherished and integral parts of the community, just like the local schoolhouse."

Construction of mega-schools in outlying areas helped erode that sense of belonging, the Trust says.

"Children were bused away from the center of town -- and community life -- and now, only 1 in 8 children walks or bikes to school," a Trust statement said.

To revitalize community schools, the Trust says it wants to preserve them and re-open them for students.

During Preservation Week, the Trust is sponsoring a poster contest. It is open to non-profit groups, schools, school districts and state and local governments involved in promoting the continued use of older and historic neighborhood schools as educational facilities.

Schools featured in the posters should be at least 50 years old, although exceptions can be made to the age guideline. They should have architectural merit, serve as community anchors and be currently in use as educational facilities.

Cash awards of $2,000, $1,000 and $500 will be given to the first-, second- and third-prize winners.

For more information about the contest, contact Rob Nieweg at 202-588-6107. The deadline is March 31, 2001.

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