Wednesday night, after all the dog and website drama here, Baby Sister came over to hang the curtains she’d made for my room and Second Son’s room, only to find we had the wrong length of rod for mine and Second Son’s she deemed too short (thanks to me trusting the contractor who told me that Second Son’s windows were the same height as the skinnier windows in my room and PDD’s room when they weren’t.) We did get a great business card designed for her, though, so all was not lost.
Despite the fact that it was 11pm, I decided to watch The Freedom Writers, a movie I’d been wanting to see forever, and which NetFlix so kindly delivered in the mail earlier that day.
I. Was. Blown. Away.
(Not only do I strongly recommend watching this movie, go visit the Freedom Writers Foundation website, too.)
Both the middle school and the high school where I teach are considered ‘at-risk’ schools, not quite as violence-prone as the high school in the movie, but then Tulsa is not nearly as big as L.A., either. It’s really not that much different, as I found out Thursday.
I was at the middle school again Thursday and yesterday, teaching 7th grade geography. During 2nd hour, one of the boys started feeling sick and asked to go to the bathroom. He looked all washed out and had broken out in a sweat, so I let him go. The boys bathroom was right next door to my class, so I stood out in the hallway waiting on him. I didn’t hear anything and poked my head in the door and called to him. A faint little voice answered back, but I couldn’t understand what he said. So I got another boy out of my classroom to go find me an adult male to send in the bathroom. The security guard comes back with him and goes in to find the first boy sprawled out on the bathroom floor. He scooped him up and took him to the nurse.
The bell rang and my 3rd hour class arrived. The first thing we do with 3rd hour is line them up and take them to the cafeteria for lunch, and in doing that, I turned around to find one of my girls had fallen in the hallway at the back of the line. I went back to see what was going on – I thought they were goofing around. No, she was dizzy and unable to stand on her own. She fell again, and this time I scooped her up and put her arm around my shoulder and was trying to help her walk, when she started to fall again and almost took me to the floor with her. The vice principal just happened to come out of his office and ran over and scooped her up on the other side and told me to go get the wheelchair from the nurse. We sent the rest of the class to lunch.
When I wheeled her to the nurse’s office, I made the comment, “Something is getting to my kids – this is the second one with the same symptoms in under 30 minutes.” The nurse asked me to go get some orange juice for them, so I went to the cafeteria and returned with the juice. The first boy’s mom had been called and was on her way. I asked what she thought was wrong with them, and she said that the boy’s vitals were fine, but that the girl’s blood pressure was really low.
I had about 10 minutes of my lunch break left, so I went out to my car and sat listening to NPR for a few minutes, still puzzled about what was going on with my kids.
I went back to collect my kids from lunch, and by the time we got back to the classroom, I was missing another boy. He was in the line, but now he wasn’t in the classroom. Before I could investigate where he went, another girl told me she was feeling sick and needed to go to the nurse. She asked if I would walk with her because she felt dizzy.
We got to the nurse’s office and there was my missing boy! Now this makes 4 students from my class in less than an hour. The nurse and I just looked at each other, puzzled, and I told her I had to get back to my class because I’d left a student in charge. I told her to call the classroom if she found out anything.
When I got back to the classroom, I walked in on an animated conversation/debate and all I caught of what was said was, “…they are so stupid. This is what they get…”
I shut the door behind me and said, “Ok, guys…cough it up. What’s going on? This is not the time to be worrying about being considered a snitch – you could be saving 4 lives – tell me what they did.”
They all took pills that another kid had brought to school. Some of them, more than one.
I went back to the nurse’s office and told her, and she called the vice principal and we told him and I went back to my class.
Within 5 minutes, security had locked me and the rest of my kids in our room, searched the room, removed our trash and by the time 3rd hour was over, had removed 6 of my students to the principal’s office.
By the end of the day, two students were in the hospital, one was in juvenile detention, and another 6-7 had been brought to the nurse’s office from other classes and sent home. In total, about a dozen 7th graders had had adverse reactions to the pills they’d taken, and we still don’t know how many more kids took pills that day but didn’t get sick.
What I realized is that I have had every one of the stories from Freedom Writers in a classroom at one point or another, and our public education system is ill-equipped to deal with the realities of these kids’ lives. I have students in my classrooms who are beaten at home. I have students who sell drugs to put food on the table. I have students who carry weapons to make it to school unharmed. And to tell these kids, “Call 911” or “Selling drugs isn’t the way” or “We’re sending you to juvie for coming to school with a weapon” is to miss the entire point.
Then I get home to find Adopted Son has been suspended for 5 days for not telling a teacher his name. I thought there must be more to the story than that…but no, there’s not. A teacher he doesn’t have demanded he tell him his name and his response was, “Why?”
So, instead of kicking him out of here and sending him back to mom, I told him he would be going to work for my neighbor on the days I’m teaching. There’d be no laying around enjoying not having to be at school. And I told him he’d lost his phone privileges (except for talking to his mom and his little brother) until he was back in school. That, alone, will probably kill him. 🙂 And yes, we’ve had the conversation about how he could have responded to avoid getting suspended. We also talked about the perceptions of people at school about him and how most of the people don’t look past what they see in his file or the mean-mug look on his face that he wears to protect himself.
Something is going on in my life. Something that I can’t put my finger on. And the song from Sunday School is playing loudly in my head….
“…this little Light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”