by Kevin Allman
The New York Times Magazine has an in-depth piece by Paul Tough about the challenges facing the children, the parents, the administrators, and a teacher named Chelsea Schmitz:
One Sunday afternoon in May, one of Schmitzs students, Ronnie Stewart, took me out to see the ruins of the B. W. Cooper public-housing complex, known more commonly as the Calliope projects, where he grew up. He and his family spent seven days trapped in their third-floor apartment by the flood that followed Katrina, until finally they were rescued by a Coast Guard boat. At one point, Stewart told me, when it looked as if help would never come, he and a couple of his cousins had to swim through the oily water that covered Martin Luther King Boulevard to get food and water and diapers for their family from a flooded convenience store. Now the projects are abandoned, surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence and marked for demolition.
Stewart, who is 18, was a senior; he was taking Schmitzs class because he never passed ninth-grade English. Before Katrina, he told me, his teachers never pushed him very hard. They always showed us the easy way to get through something, he said. How to get around it. Thats why I think so many people are struggling now, schoolwise. Before the storm, we mostly had teachers just really trying to keep us in high school. No teacher was talking to us about college. But now they are. Theyre mostly trying to get us out of high school and into college now.
Stewart and his classmates gave Schmitz a hard time when she first arrived. We tried to get over on her, but she always cracked down, he said. She was always there for us, always telling me: Ronnie, do your work; Ronnie, what college are you going to? Ronnie, did you call the university? I was like, I finally got a teacher that really cares about me.
I needed to read that today.
For the perspective of a parent, hop on over to Cliff's Crib and read how Clifton Harris is feeling at the prospect of sending his baby girl to public kindergarten:
I am nervous about her first day for several reasons. Im wondering if shes going to a decent school. Im worried about environment in and around the school. I am not ashamed to admit I love my hood but there are some aspects of it that I don't want my kids exposed to. I am concerned about her being under too much pressure since everything is based on test scores and her homework package has things in it I didnt see until the third grade. I have been beating myself up for the past two weeks because I figured I had five years to put myself in a position to send her wherever I wanted even if it meant paying tuition. That was before a company downsizing, a pay cut, and a hurricane. Now she's going to a public school I never heard of until a few months ago. I guess that's what happens when new charter schools pop up weekly. All you can go on is what they promise you.
That's all any of us can do these days, I guess. Good luck to Cliff, his daughter, and all New Orleans schoolkids and their parents. Good luck to Ronnie Stewart, and to Chelsea Schmitz. And to the teachers and administrators: thank you.