My school is located in a neighborhood notorious for drug use and violence. In the last two weeks, there have been three different shootings in the neighborhood, resulting in two deaths and one young adult in critical condition. Many of my students heard the gunshots and knew the victims. The students in our afterschool program led a silent march around the neighborhood in response to the shootings.
One of my homeless students earned an opportunity to go to the treasure box. The box contains snacks, water bottles, piggy banks, school supplies, etc. He dug through the box and was elated to select a pair of socks. He asked if there were any more so he could give a pair to his brother.
A student I have talked with in depth throughout the year approached me at recess. She asked me last week if I ever wanted to hurt myself. Following her cues, she revealed that she cut herself. After speaking with the guidance counselor and meeting with her parents, we have referred her to a counselor.
One of my Vietnamese boys has been falling asleep alot in class lately and forgetting his homework. A family friend of his informed the school that the boy's father had a work related accident and ended up having his arm amputated. The mom has been in the hospital looking after his dad while my 5th grader has cared for his younger siblings.
One of my refugee students has had a drastic change in behavior in the last few weeks. He is an only child and is the cutest mamma's boy ever. He and his mother have endured earthquakes, living in fear, and fleeing Cuba. After making some phone calls, the ESL teacher let us know that his mom is pregnant and our student is simply not transitioning well.
Many of my students have parents that are in jail. One girl in my class shared her exciting news that her mother was released from prison. This student didn't get a chance to go to bed early the night before the EOG's because she was helping her mother move into a halfway house and meeting her mom's parole officer.
Another homeless student of mine smells so bad that we keep switching her desk with a desk in the hallway so that it can air out. I spray Febreeze and give her toiletries, but she doesn't have access to a washing machine so her clothes genuinely stink. It was so bad on Tuesday that I honestly thought the foul smell coming from the corner of the room was my proctor's lunch. It wasn't.
Our classroom is no stranger to bugs. These uninvited pests are not here as a result of unsanitary school conditions. Unfortunately, roaches tend to lay eggs in students backpacks and hatch at school. We had a serious infestation in our cubbies last week, resulting in several students from the same apartment complex emptying their backpacks outside so the roaches could run free. Thankfully, the kids don't ever tease one another because it could happen to any of them.
One of my favorite students just moved here from Burma last May. In a short year she has absorbed so much of the English language and American culture, though she struggles tremendously with reading comprehension. She earned the lowest possible score on her Reading EOG and cried because she was afraid she wouldn't be allowed to go to middle school.
The following conversation took place at recess:
Student: "Ms. Robinson, I've only got four more years."
Me: "Until what?"
Student: "Until I get pregnant."
Me: "I should hope not. Why would you say that?"
Student: "Well my mom had my sister when she was 15. And my sister had her baby when she was 15. I've only got four years 'til I'm 15."
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Ninety-six percent of 5th graders made 1.5+ years of growth in reading this year. One hundred percent of my students made expected growth goals in math. Despite earning high growth in math and reading, only a third of my students are reading on grade level and 70% are on grade level in math. I've busted my ass this year and the results still didn't meet my expectations. It's frustrating and heartbreaking and makes me feel inadequate.
I am not a miracle worker. I can't change the facts. I want a better life for my students. I want them to feel success and have choices in their future. But the truth is that they are perpetually at a disadvantage. Much of their future is determined by their education. At least half of them will enter middle school behind, then get lost in the shuffle. As a result, many will enter high school even further behind. Even those that are on grade level will become entangled with gangs, drug use, violence, sex, poverty, depression, language barriers, and homelessness that plague their neighborhoods. The odds are against them, though their potential is tremendous.