Saturday, May 12, 2018

#EducatingReformers - Pt. 1 Samuel

Credit: AJ Garcia - UpSplash
Last week I wrote about how I was going to tell the stories of students who, far too often, become statistics on both sides of the education battle. 

This is my first installment. This story comes from a teacher who works in an alternative high school for students who have not been successful in the regular public school setting. This isn't because of 'bad teachers', it's because they face a host of other challenges, including overwhelming obstacles at home. Over 90% of the students in this school are minorities and qualify for free and reduced lunch.   

As with all of these posts, certain identifying information, including names and locations have been changed. It is also edited for brevity and content.

This is Samuel's story:

I’ve been peripherally noting that one of my senior students, Samuel, who is inches from graduation, comes in as soon as the doors open for teachers at 7:30 am. A bit disheveled, but I know his home life isn’t perfect. Today I came in at 7:15, and he was there. Spent 15 minutes in the bathroom with a lot of water and paper towels. Couldn‘t disguise the filth. I told my school counsellor I thought he slept on the street and yup, he’s homeless. The staff who know Samuel knew immediately what had happened. Of course there were clues: dirty, not shaving, downing energy drinks without eating, and not looking at us in the eyes even for a lunch order. BINGO. I have great staff support this year.

(Note: This teacher went on to say that next year her school is getting a new principal who knows nothing about working with this student population, but simply needs more 'experience' on their resumé, which will be a huge blow to the atmosphere at the school.)

We all kind of enfolded him with gentle questions. He finally opened up and cried. We bought take-home food for him and got him the address of a men’s shelter. He is so reluctant to accept help. As I would expect, knowing his pride.

He is so smart! He can read a lesson 2 or 3 times and pass a test with no notes anywhere! He was on ADHD and anti-depressant drugs throughout elementary school and middle school. Mom married an alcoholic and threw him out. He's been off all prescription drugs, but living on caffeine. He moved in with his girlfriend this year when he was homeless. They had a fight over the weekend. He is back on the streets. 

The counselor, principal and I talked to Samuel at different times today. Lots of work ahead — not to get him to graduate, but to get him to realize he deserves to not be thrown around like an empty trash bag. And a lot of help to get him on his feet after graduation. Meanwhile, his mother called today to find out “what’s going on with Samuel?” Samuel is 18. Our counselor talked to him before she would call mom. She will not call mom back. Samuel is an adult now, and his wishes come first. He wants nothing to do with her. (emphasis mine)

Thank you. This kid is brilliant and broken. 

Standardized testing will not help Samuel, nor will school choice or vouchers, and certainly not decreased school funding. Not being 'college and career ready' is not his problem. This child needs love, security, a home, proper medical and psychological care and a strong support network. He is getting some of that at school, but as this teacher said, what happens after he graduates?

Will he be able to get health insurance from whatever remnants of the Affordable Care Act are left in his state, or will he continue to suffer the debilitating effects of ADHD and depression? Will he find the inner strength to succeed? Or will his life continue to spiral out of control? If he is unable to find that support network, the odds are not in his favor. And yet, 'reformers' say public education is the problem. For Samuel, public education has been his only hope for survival.

If you have a story you'd like to share about a student facing extraordinary odds, and how public education is helping him or her, email me at mcorfield610@gmail.