"The first time I drove to the school," says Juliana Alvarez, "we literally drove right past it in the dark. I thought, 'Where's the school? There's no school here." This was at the beginning of her son's four-year career at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, NY. It planted the seed in her mind that the thirteen-acre campus, bounded as it is by elevated train tracks, a bus yard, and industrial buildings, really needed a sign to set it apart. "The need was always there," she remembers. People complained that they couldn't find the school in the dark, but no one was doing anything to remedy the problem.
In her son's second year, Alvarez was elected President of the Parents Association and began her crusade to make the school more visible, especially after dark. "I talked to a sign company, but I just didn't like what they were dishing out," she says. The company representative struck her as unfriendly, and didn't have any suggestions on how the help make the sign happen. Between the lack of support from the sign company and an inherited deficit in the PA budget, Alvarez was getting nowhere fast.
In her second year as President, things began to look up. Alvarez happened across Stewart Signs and immediately clicked with her sign consultant. "She was a whole different type of person from the person at that other sign company," she says. "She was very warm, friendly. It was like she was sitting there with me." Stewart Signs prides itself on closing the "communication gap" that can exist between a usually faceless corporation and a client. With hands-on service and a willingness to remain supportive of a project that can take years to accomplish, Stewart was the perfect fit for Alvarez and her needs.
Her consultant took the time to learn more about the kind of sign the school needed by asking a lot of very particular questions. How fast did the traffic on the road travel? Did Alvarez want moveable letters or an LED display? What exactly did they want to accomplish with this sign? Then she designed a sign for the school, a Herald, and discussed ways that other schools had raised funds for signs. One school had written a letter to its entire parent population, so Alvarez decided to do the same, but she still felt that the sign was too expensive for her fundraising efforts to ever be able to afford. Her consultant helped by scaling down the design to an Announcer 48 and then to a 46 and encouraging Alvarez to send out the letter. With permission from her principal to fund a "special project," the letter went out to each of the 3,400 families at the school.
In the spring of her final year as PA President, it finally started to come together. Donations in response to the letter came pouring in, and the Student Association pitched in some money. Just when Alvarez was beginning to think "I'm never going to get my sign," she had just enough money to do it. "I called her and she was so excited for us," she recalls.
"But now," she says, "we needed a miracle." It came in the form of a custodian at the school who said "Wouldn't it be nice if the sign was up for graduation?" "He knew," she says, "how hard I had worked to make the sign happen." Normally, Alvarez notes, it takes months to get any construction done in a New York City school, but a phone call to just the right person got the ball rolling. "A week before graduation the base got laid. Then suddenly the electricity was hooked up. The night before graduation, the sign itself went up."
The sign, made of solar grade polycarbonate, 3M™ vinyl, and DuPont™ powdercoat paint, comes with a lifetime warranty, something Alvarez feels confident she can rely on at any time. Its ease of use was evident from the outset: Alvarez herself placed the first letters on the sign that announced graduation the following day. The glowing sign served as a beacon for all the proud parents and families coming to the school for the last time.
At graduation, Alvarez celebrated many achievements. Her son graduated, her term as PA President drew to a close, and she had finally accomplished her dream of putting the school on the map. Her consultant and Stewart Signs were in her thoughts that day. As she said in her graduation speech, "Now no one can ever say again that Dewey is in the dark."
Juliana Alvarez, Parent Association President
John Dewey High School