A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
I am intellectually aware of Paola’s poverty.
Nine out of 10 students at our school come from families whose income level meets the federal poverty guidelines. Paola, an immigrant from El Salvador, is one of them. The first-grader lives in a small apartment with her grandma, mom, sister and uncle. Combined, the adults earn less than $26,170 a year.
My small school has no cafeteria. Students bring their own lunches and eat in the classroom with their teachers. When I first learned about this set-up, I had mixed emotions. I didn’t get a break for lunch like most teachers, but on the other hand, my middle school students didn’t have to face the awkwardness and social segregation of a large school cafeteria.
I noticed a trend several years ago. A sixth-grader tagged along with me into the school. She wanted to use a computer. “My printer is broken,” she explained. “Can I come in with you and print my assignment?” A few days later, it happened again. Only this time, another student needed to edit an essay on a word-processor.
It was Black History Month. I was working with children and youth in an after-school program in the Clarksdale housing projects in Louisville, Ky. Spike Lee's film Malcolm X had just been released. I sat around a table with a group of teenagers discussing Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X and James Cone’s Martin & Malcolm & America.
The high school where I work was looking to find its school spirit. I wanted to get all students involved, but only a handful were active participants. When I was the activities director, I was frequently regaled with stories of past football games, bleachers packed to the hilt with cheering students, faces painted in blue and white. Pep assemblies were held nearly every week and students wouldn’t dream of missing one. I was never sure if these stories were tinted with the amber-colored lenses of nostalgia or if this Hollywood version of high school was accurate. All I knew was that the student body of my time was more racially and economically diverse than the student body of the past and that our school was working to redefine its identity. Somehow that translated to a lack of pep in the rallies.
Mention school desegregation, and most people envision the Little Rock Nine—not the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). But Tucson is exactly where the battle for desegregation is being fought today.
America is a place where hard work will move you ahead. Here, you can go further than your parents did and provide your children with more than you had. Few people believe in this dream more ardently than my students. The American dream is what has sustained them through nine difficult years in Philadelphia’s public schools. They arrive at my school with some pride to have been admitted to small, safe, selective school in the heart of Philadelphia’s historical district. They take subways and ride buses (sometimes for more than an hour) out of their neighborhoods and into bustling center city. And they arrive with their grit, a fierce determination to get the grades, no matter the cost. They have their hearts set on college because in America, college is the gateway to the middle class. They have an enduring faith in America and in the transformative power of education.