Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On the Road to Nowhere

My school has a high mobility rate (worse since Hurricane Katrina) - students come and students go. It’s not uncommon for some of our kids to attend 2 or 3 different schools over the course of the school year.

Last August one of the new students really stood out – after all most 5th graders don’t come accompanied by their own parole officer. He was very tall, already a year and half-older than most of our other 5th graders (ah, the joys of double retainees). Well spoken, well mannered when he wanted to be, very intelligent, read way above grade level and wrote with a maturity far beyond most 5th graders.

He also had attitude with a capital A, a chip on his shoulder, street smarts and no work ethic whatsoever. He argued with everyone and anyone, instigated fights, and quickly became a frequent guest of the Assistant Principal.

Our principal, well aware that African American Males are an endangered species, gave him chance, after chance, after chance. She mentored him , had parent conferences, sent him to counseling, moved him to a different classroom, even approved a transfer when his mother moved out of the attendance zone.

Everyone thought he was turning over a new leaf till a couple of "never been trouble, always well behaved" girls tentatively approached their teacher and spilled out a sordid tale of sexual comments, harassment, verbal threats and what in the workplace would be considered “a hostile work environment”.

Once they broke the ice the stories came tumbling out. He would follow kids home and jump them once they off school grounds, he sat in the very back of the bus and talked trash well aware that the bus driver could not hear him. He had issued threats of what he would do if anyone dared report him. In short, he had pretty much terrorized the class.
Since he was extremely intelligent he had a genius for saying just the right thing when confronted and knowing just what he could away with when the teacher’s back was turned.

His behavior gave the principal no choice but to revoke his transfer. He’s going from our school, which while we may be 85 % free lunch and everything that goes with it, is still a very good school. We care about the kids, we nurture them, our kids learn and our test scores are excellent. He would have had a chance with us; in fact, we were most likley his last chance

Come Monday he will be attending school in a neighboring district, in an area of town noted for its high crime and low performing schools. Next year he’ll be at middle school with an even worse reputation, and the high school, should he manage to stay in school long enough to get there is even worse.

It is all so very sad, here is a young man who has so much potential yet at age 11 his life script is already written. By the time, he is 21 he will be either in a wooden box or in an iron cell.

Even though we are supposed to leave no child behind some cannot be salvaged.


Library Lady said...

God, how frustrating!

I did a story hour for a very inner city preschool this morning. The kids are SO sweet--I get hugs galore every time I go. And yet, I can't help wondering which of them I will be seeing in here in 10 years or so, foul mouthed and unable to read the sort of picture books they have in their current school.

I hope that things will be better for them. But after 20 years of doing this, I am getting damned cynical....

Doug said...

I teach at an urban middle school filled with children such as you describe. The only hope is that sometime, somewhere, the little kindness we show the students sticks.

Anonymous said...

What a great post. Well said. It made me think of one of my little 11-year-old third graders from last year who was already doing some of the things you described ... including coming to school with a switchblade knife and marijuana joint .... I fully expect to see him on the evening news one of these days.