Monday, September 19, 2011

I Know Where You Live

Every now and again something can touch you in a unique way, a way you would not expect or can explain. A recent experience with one of my students did just that for me. As a school principal I normally don’t want my students to know my home address or where I live for various reasons and when a student happens to walk past my house or see me getting out of my car and yells loudly and proudly "Mr. Medley,(Mr. Med-laaaay)" I usually cringe and move as fast as I can into the house or the car depending on which one I am heading into.

Last week when school finally got underway after multiple delays due to Hurricane Irene, I was standing in front of my newly assigned school awaiting the arrival of our school bus population when suddenly a young man stuck his head out of the bus window when his bus pulled up in disbelief as he recognized who I was. He immediately began to excitedly share with his bus mates that he lived on the same block as the principal. My first reaction was to cringe as I usually do when I learn of a student knowing where I live and to make matters worse he was sharing the information with his friends. But something was different about this one. This was one of my young special education students and there was this pride that he took in being able to say that he lived in the same neighborhood as his principal. He was actually proud to be able to say that he lived near his principal. His face was beaming with pride and joy for I could see that it made him feel special (and not the “special” the kids often tease students who are classified as “special ed.”).

Two days later as I parked my car and exited it, I ran into the kid playing football with some of the other neighborhood kids and when he saw me he immediately spoke, “Hi Mr. Medley.” Again I noticed that he said this with his chest poked out and smiling. I spoke back and walked up to him and asked him if he had learned anything in school in the past week and he said yes and that he had received two kites from his teacher. I surmised that the kites must have been some type of incentive/reward system based on the smile on his face and then he asked me, if he did well all year, would I get him something at the end of the school year? I looked at the young man and said, “Son if you continue working like you are doing now throughout the school year and you continue to do well, I will indeed get you something at the end of the school year. Words could not describe the look on his face when I gave him that response. Thinking about the kid later and everything that had transpired between us, I silently wept for this child and all of the others. It actually brought tears to my eyes as I thought about how important it was for this child to see someone who had “made it” educationally living right down the street from him; a professional educator right next door; one he sees at his school every day.

Why Black Flight to the Suburbs is Not the Right Move, an April 6, 2011 blog post written by a member of Rebuilding Your Community an educational-based community development program designed to teach citizens how to rebuild communities in distressed urban neighborhoods illustrates my point and is excerpted below:

Some scholars have argued that one of the greatest drawbacks of the civil rights movement of the 1960s was integration and assimilating into mainstream. They argue that by integrating, we have lost our collective powers. In the early 1900s, some of the most successful black communities emerged under oppressive laws and racial segregation. Back then, we were forced to live, work, and play together no matter what our income status was. Black doctors lived in close proximity to janitors, teachers mingled with maids, and lawyers partied with bellhops. We built our own institutions, we hired each other, the barter system was a way of life, and our dollars circulated within the community many times over before leaving. Also, these arrangements allowed for us to develop cultural norms and value systems that were adhered to by all. Anything less would not be tolerated because bad behavior by one reflected on the whole community and was potential for danger. We were able to accomplish this by concentrating all of our resources into highly-dense neighborhoods where everyone benefitted. Today, none of this exists, so these scholars may indeed be right. 
Can you imagine what it would be like for our children to see and live near doctors, janitors, teachers, maids, lawyers, bellhops, preachers, police officers, judges, pilots, accountants, store owners, and engineers, etc. all in the same neighborhood? Can you imagine how powerful that would be? Unfortunately in too many urban settings the only thing our children see are gang members, drug users/dealers, prostitution, gambling, alcoholics making their way back and forth to the liquor stores and not to mention the shootings and the stabbings. Our children aspire to be what they see whether it be positive or negative. I once had a student tell me that he could not see himself getting any further in life than the dice throwing brothers he saw on his corner every day. He could not see himself going any higher. That was a sad statement.

I took all of this into account as I saw this young man’s head held high with a big smile as he felt like somebody because he lived on the same block as the principal. This was one time I did not cringe at the thought of one of my students knowing where I live. I am just as proud to be living on the same block with him as he is of living on the same block with me. I am happy this student gets to see his principal on his block and in his school. I am not a gambling man, however, I am willing to bet that this young man will not be a discipline problem for me this school year and I am also willing to bet that I will indeed have to get him something at the end of the school year based on his academic achievement.

1 comment:

JonQsview said...

I really like your writing. It has a strong meaning in it. I hope to read more of your writings.