Monday, December 17, 2007

Day 72

The kids were simply rotten today. Last week they got their high school applications, and this pushed many hopeful kids off the cliff into complete despair. In Baltimore City, there are some really excellent high schools with high academic standards, but the kids need a certain GPA and decent scores on their high school entrance exams in order to apply. Otherwise, they have a shot at some decent schools with no entrance critera, or a slim chance to get selected by a one of the good City-wide schools in a lottery. Out of all the terrible things I've seen at Booker T. this year, the worst was watching 13-year-olds realize that they had no chance to get into a good school. Many of them had test-scores in the lowest tenth percentile nationally on their Terra Nova tests. Some of these kids are quite smart, but have simply not taken their schooling seriously. Watching the most outspoken, care-free kids become instantaneously crestfallen was not easy. Having their options limited to such a degree at age 13 is a grim reality for these kids, whose options were already rather scant. Some kids protested that their scores weren't correct. We had the guidance counselor in the room to show them how their scores were calculated and to keep telling them: "I told you how important your grades were for last year and this year. I told you to take things seriously. I told you this would happen and you rolled your eyes at me."

Most of these kids will end up at their zoned high school, which means more of the same: a chaotic and dangerous environment, burned-out cynical faculty, terrible administrators, sadistic school police, disinterested parents, crumbling communities, no gym/music/art or after-school programs, misdirected, stolen, or absent resources etc, etc. And it's quite likely more than half of them will drop out.

There's some good news. We finally have a principal in the building. He's a preacher and he's been a VP in the school system for years. Many faculty members think a strong, no-nonsense African-American male will automatically turn the school around; it will be hard for anyone, but I'm hopeful, particularly since we've had no principal at all since January of last year. A strong principal can have a big impact; other wretched City schools have recovered once they got a good administrator in the building. We met Dr. B. today and he was dressed to the nines in a well-tailored suit. He patted his belly and said "You can see I like to eat. I can see by looking around that some of you all like to eat too. Well, to eat we have to work. And to work we have to work together, because a school is like a ship, and if this ship sinks it will be hard for us to eat. I need you to do your jobs." Etc.

Three hours later I was still breaking up fights in the hallway, chasing Montrise out of the smokers' lounge in the dark stairwell, and taking away the tests of students who were talking or text-messaging answers to each other.

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