Saturday, December 03, 2005

show and tell

Friday afternoon, just after lunch, the school counsellor asks me to drive with him out to a home visit. (This is not a picture of the home, but an example of what a nice home in our neighborhood looks like. Fresh coat of paint, flowers, grass, glass in the windows--these aren't things you see on every house.)

No problem.

In the future, he says, we should probably make home visits before lunch because gang members aren't awake then.

Hmm, good idea.

We head down the street, two white nicely-dressed adults in my little-too-new car, and start searching down 7th Street in San Bernardino. Interesting fact, he says, I once served on a jury for an attempted triple-homicide by the 7th street gang.

Oh, gee.

The street dead-ends before we get to the house number so we jog around through a few alleys. Shouldn't be too much longer, now.

Back on the street we're looking for, numbers are getting closer, and I only see a couple of house numbers painted on cardboard strips next to the front doors. What house number is that?

"Beware of Dog," I read.

A group of four big guys in undershirts are sticking their heads in a doorless Honda. I go past them, then make a U-turn in the street to head back towards them. We roll down the windows and the counsellor confirms, Yep, those are the twin boys we're looking for.

They've been truant for 32 school days. 33, the boy wearing the shorts from his PE school uniform corrects him.

What, they keep track?

A mother comes out of the house. She makes these faces of meth look gorgeous. My daughter has more teeth than she does. Her upper lip is swollen, sagging, and purple. She looks like she is in her early seventies but is probably not even 40.

We shake hands and explain the law about students being truant.

Yeah, I was reading a letter from the school, she says, but I didn't finish it.

Right. She wants them to go to a different school because she's afraid they'll get jumped at ours.

These are big boys. I wonder if they didn't try to jump a few kids themselves.

A girl wanders out from the house, about 15, dressed in sweatpants and fuzzy blue slippers. She's going to the store. Here's two dollars.

I wonder if the toddler trying to run into the street is hers.

The counsellor makes an appointment for the mother to meet with the principal. Time to get back.

Well, boys and girls, let's review. Stay in school. Don't use drugs.

Next week we'll talk about teen pregnancy and how to solve two-step algebraic equations by playing West Side vs. East Side. Have a good weekend.


Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Fucking great post.

Forgive the language but I've been there.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I've got a lot to learn from you, Daniel. Thanks.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I've pounded those streets, searched crack houses and homeless dens for kids, to try and get them back on side, to try and get them back in the loop.

Sometimes you'd get a glimpse of a child long since repressed to dela with the hard knocks and then they'd slip out of your grasp to a life unknown.

I'm gonna' have to blog on this soon.

Thanks for inspiring me again!

4:58 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I've had students like this. The problem is that our madatory requirements for schooling are too high. The bar should be set at 8th grade.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Daniel, It is one thing--and not a small thing--to escape this world. It is another to face it again as an adult and to have the courage to pull others out with you. They say that only 40% of adolescents in the U.S. can identify three adults who care about them. I look forward to your post.

PC, um, no. A resounding no. In fact, your comment really irks me. By students "like this" do you mean poor? Do you mean "at-risk"? Do you mean in a family where their single parent, uncle, aunt, grandmother doesn't do a very good job of taking care of themselves much less other people? ALL of my students are like this. ALL of my students are poor. ALL of my students live in neighborhoods whose gang activities are so well-known and so socially endemic that they're even listed in Wikipedia.

Yeah, these boys made the wrong choices. Every child I see each day is faced with the same choices. The laws are there to protect children not abandon them.

Thank god we have truancy laws, though they may not be well enforced. Thank god we live in a society that believes public education is for the whole public. Thank god we give children the opportunity to glimpse the world beyond their neighborhoods. Thank god school districts are teaching inept outsiders like me that poverty can be chronic, generational, and with its own set of socially-implied rules (see Ruby Payne, above link).

To say that a thirteen-year-old boy should be left free to roam the streets without knowing how to write a letter, how to calculate credit card debt, how to use the Internet, or even what the inside of a high school looks like ... that frightens and angers me.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Stormmaster said...

The more you write about your job, the more respect I have for you. Sending in the teacher to get the kids back to school sounds like you should be paid a danger bonus.
AFAIK here in Germany the situation isn't as bad, although I don't know about the "socially weaker regions". In most towns truancy is not tolerated - some even have special teams to get the kids back to school.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks Storm. Home visits aren't required for teachers. And most teachers hate doing them. But when phones are disconnected, mail is hidden or lost, and the students themselves don't even come to school, there aren't many options left. Also, there is nothing like a home visit to send a message to a student that you really do care about them.

Glad to hear the situation is better in Germany.

5:23 AM  
Blogger James said...

Great post. You wonderfully describe one of the things I do not miss about teaching. Those kinds of extracurricular activities are miserable, but kudos to you for continuing to do what it takes.

10:24 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

When I made that statement I made an assumption that I shouldn't have made. I made the assumption that everything possible had been done for those students. I assumed they had counseling, had met with a social worker, had been tested for emotional and learning disorders, etc. I worked at a really good public school last year that made sure to provide all of those services, even to truant students. So, when I said, "Kids like these", I meant kids who have had every service possible, refuse to come to school, and need to work to support themselves. These kids don't have a parent to take care of them, the system has failed them. If they won't go to school, maybve they'd be willing to learn a trade. School schould be madatory until 8th grade. After that, at least 2 more years of schooling should be required, of trade school, apprenticeships, or college prep. I was talking about an ideal system, not the current one, so I understand how my comment would have been irksome.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks for the clarification, PC.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I put my thoughts set off by you out there.


5:48 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

Totally my bad.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Daniel, I noticed. I enjoyed.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Barnaby said...

I really don't know how you do it! Amazing.

1:53 PM  

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