November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
Earlier this week, a case manager for the middle school was filing away the students’ test scores at the computer next to me. Every Tuesday, the students take a test based on the Massachusetts state curriculum so the instructors can track the placement and progress of each participant. Again, I’ve changed her name.
I haven’t mentioned her before, but Heather recently started in the program. At age 11, she was supposedly impossible to control. Her mother could not handle her so she pulled Heather out of school and sent her to live with her grandma in Algeria. Heather is now 15 and came back about a month ago. Apparently, she was not in school the entire time she was in Africa (what was she possibly doing on a daily basis?). When I first talked to her, she told me how boring Alergia was and how much she hated it and now I understand why.
She has become an incredibly sweet, reserved girl. She respects authority and knows how to sit quietly in class. She wants to learn, and seen in the context of the rest of her class, she appears to be quite the perfect student. Every time she sees me, she runs across the room to give me a big hug or waves at me emphatically.
Well, her tests scores from last week place her in second grade. Did I mention that she is 15?
Someone with a second grade education does not fit in a class full of students who generally test at a 5th grade level or so. Her instructor says they need to pull her out of the program, that she is better suited to be in Adult Basic Education (ABE). CBD offers ABE as part of the Adult Education programs, but generally they are for adults so their students are over 18. I presume that if they cannot place her in the CBD ABE class, they will find an alternative ABE program for her. I worry because she is likely to become incredibly discouraged with her education. Even if she can continue with ABE and ultimately get a GED, how many years will that be? If, on the other hand, she becomes too discouraged to continue, what can she possible do with a second grade education? How well can you even read at a second grade level?
It is astonishingly unfair how badly the system failed her and that her mother/grandmother did not seem to consider the consequences of their actions. I am unbelievably frustrated to learn this about Heather, who really deserves so much better. But as infuriated as I am, I’m even more saddened by what this means for the rest of her life.
I’m sorry Heather, but you have an even longer road ahead of you than anyone thought.
November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment
Students tell me stories about what violence happened the day before at school or at a party. Instructors fill me in on the new classroom scandal that is making their job more difficult. I’ve heard a lot about violence, but last week, I saw my first CBD fight. Names have been changed for safety.
Unlike many of the other students, Andrew is not intrigued by me and shows little interest in responding to my questions, so I don’t have any information about him. I was sitting in the Little House, where Andrew’s program, the Alternative Middle School (AMS), is held. After school, he was sitting in the hallway. His best friend, Tyler, was standing in the gym behind Andrew and knocked on the window to get Andrew’s attention. Andrew wrongfully assumed that Tyler was trying to aggravate him. He jumped out of his seat, ran into the gym, and punched Tyler in the face 4 times. Andrew’s mother was happened to be there for a meeting. Seeing her son punch Tyler in the face, Andrew’s mother tackled her son. She screamed and she pushed him against a wall. He began to yell at her and the next thing I know, her hands are around his neck shouting that she would beat him up if he didn’t stop talking.
My immediate reaction was that a mother can’t treat her child like this; no wonder he acts out. An instructor for a different program said this was the hardest part of her job, understanding why her students are so difficult to control and why they get into fights. I asked the case manager for the AMS students whether someone would call DSS, wondering about the protocol. He evaded my question.
The following day, the director of the AMS program, John, drove me to Little House with all my equipment. On the thirty minute drive, I had the opportunity to ask him about the situation. In his opinion, the mother was in the right to hit her son. John explained that these boys have a few more years before they hold no legal obligation to listen to their parents and before they are considered adults according to the law. John thinks that when your son wont listen to you, you need to make him. He quantified that this doesn’t work on the female students, but that most of the boys could use a beating from a strong father figure.
As the co-founder of the first charter school in Dorchester, John has called the Department of Children and Families (DCF) on numerous accounts. Overwhelmed with cases, DCF will practically only follow up where the violence and abuse is so treacherous that the child is incapable of surviving. In the past, John has worked with DCF on cases involving human trafficking, where a girl’s stepfathers prostituted her and she was getting raped 3 or 4 times a night, and a whole slew of impossibly horrifying situations that no child should ever have to experience.
What do you think? Where should the line be drawn between keeping your child in line and passing on the violence?
November 1, 2010 § 2 Comments
Have you ever noticed when there is a group of people, everyone tries to one-up each other? Be it better grades, difficult teachers, stricter parents, or the number of shootings and stabbings you have witnessed, it is a game to see who has the most extreme experience. Last week in the Alternative Middle School (AMS), the 14-15 year old girls started the “Who has witnessed more violence” contest. For their security, all the names in this post are changed.
Amiya remembered that I am from New York City. She wants to move there because she thinks Boston is boring so she asked all about the city. After a few inquiries (most of which I couldn’t answer well), she paused for a moment and inquired, “Did you grow up in the white parts?” She wanted to know if the ‘hood’ was “crazy” and “live.” I tried to deflect the questions and hide my inadequate information, when her friend, Kala, jumped in. Kala had spent a weekend in New York and began telling stories about drugs and shootings, saying how tame Boston was in comparison. Thus began the game…
Amiya recounted the only time she witnessed a shooting. Last year, at 13, Amiya was walking around Ashmont in Dorchester when someone in a car pulled out a gun and started aimlessly shooting. She was terrified, as expected. The conversation began to shift, but I asked these girls which areas they avoid for safety. Amiya said felt safe everywhere because if anyone started ‘something’, she would just fight. I was surprised, since she described how scared she was at the Ashmont shooting. But, when asked specifically about Ashmont, Amiya described returning a week after the shooting. She was paranoid and uncomfortable; she has never been back since. A few days later, Amiya gauked at me for taking the 17 bus and going to Fields Corner, so clearly there are areas that she avoids.
Kala then detailing how the New York scene is nothing compared to the scene in the Dominican Republic. At age 14, Kala was walking with her brother when he was stabbed by a girl on the street. I don’t know the exact story, but at the hospital later, Kala was furious, not knowing if her brother was going to survive. She screamed at her friends and family to bring her a gun so she could kill the girl that stabbed her brother. Fearing for Kala, her parents sent her to live with family in the DR for 6 months. She is a student in the AMS because she missed these months of school. Now, she has calmed down, her brother is fine, she is back in school, and can’t wait to get to high school.
Later, in a skill-building workshop for the girls, 13 year old Ivory laughed about a party she attended a few weeks ago. While everyone was dancing and going wild, some guy started a fight. The other guy pulled out a gun and began shooting. Ivory, a tall and aggressive girl, forced her way out and was one of the first people on the street. As everyone clamored to leave quickly, Ivory watched several people run up to the second floor and jump out of the windows. Amiya almost went to the party, but as she drove past and saw people jumping out of windows, she continued driving.
This story was told through laughter, poking fun at the silly people jumping out windows. These girls are 13 and 14 years old and this kind of experience is just part of their life, another piece of lunchroom gossip. They started partying at 12, they have no curfews, and they live in an area teeming with random violence. Kala said it best after recounting her story: “I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life.”
October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
Aside from displaying my love of alliteration, I want to throw around a few initial concepts and get some feedback. That’s where you come in…Comments? Questions? Random remarks? All are welcome!
1) Profiles of the staff/instructors
Perhaps a bit trite, but these staff members deserve to be honored. They conduct the classroom with an amazing balance of authority and relate-ability and I’ve rarely seen people so passionate (collectively and individually) about their jobs. All the instructors work here because they care about their students and are willing to sacrifice their own lives to build up the lives of the ones they teach. Given these economic times, the blood, sweat, and tears behind CBD could use a celebration of their lives and contributions.
Technique: perhaps film, but maybe a photographic slideshow narrated by the subject. See: House of Stones, Home of Bricks
2) Portraits of CBD Families
CBD started a new effort to integrate the Adult Ed and Early Education programs. Since CBD revamped their image and narrowed their mission, Adult Ed is a bit confused–the students aren’t on an explicit path to college. The program is now presented as investing in the next generation’s education–10% of the Adult Ed participants must have children in Early Ed. This is just only one faction of the CBD families: some young parents in College Prep have kids in Early Ed. The programs used to be more individualized, but the effort to integrate the programs has emphasized a universal image. This project would examine CBD across programs, showing how the work across ages enhances the community.
Technique: again, perhaps film, but most likely an audio-visual slideshow. I was also toying with concentrating on immigrant families.
Potential hitches: Language (although there would be ready-made translator) and access outside the classroom.
3) The Alternative Middle School
The middle school attracts me because the students are at a interesting junction of self definition: commit to going to school or drop out. Their identities are caught between childhood and adulthood. They want to be tough and independent, but they are still kids. They want to love and attention, but they don’t want to show it. They also really struggle to understand the long term consequences of their actions. Most middle schoolers can relate, but add an open court case and a lot of behavioral, emotional, and family issues and you have yourself quite a mix.
Technique: Hopefully film (think “American Teen” by Nanette Burstein–if you haven’t seen it, do). I want to profile the students through their sneakers. Bizarre? Perhaps, but every student has really cool sneakers. Their shoes are a tool for self-expression and through detailing different colors and styles, you learn a lot about the student.
Potential hitches: they are not overly receptive to the camera. The second they hear the “click click click” of my shutter, they fall apart in a fit of nervous laughter and get self-conscious. Some students will be easier than others. Another hitch is the students need to learn. In an accelerated program, do they have the time to be distracted by me? Also, I will soon begin leading a class-wide project where, with my direction, the students will write, direct, act, and edit their own short film by December. This would allow for collaboration.
October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
Working in some of the less safe areas of Boston is part of the package of working at a service organization for a disenfranchised population. I expected to be confronted with issues, so I was shocked the first few weeks when I felt completely comfortable walking around. Since I don’t have a car in this city and the train doesn’t run through giant gaps of Dorchester, I have to walk a whole lot. Many of places I visit are a good 15 minute walk from the T stop–most of which is through some of the less appealing parts the neighborhood. Of course, I have been stared at, but I am one of the only white women walking (especially solo) through most of these areas and that is to be expected. So why did countless Bostonian strangers gape at me with horror and confusion at the prospect of my work location.
All changed last Wednesday. When I went out to a delicious Vietnamese lunch with the ESL instructor that led the Unquity House field trip, the subject of safety unfolded. I explained how comfortable I felt despite the “disproportionate reactions” of the aforementioned strangers. Quickly, she dismantled every notion I had of the area: she explained to me that the Log School–the building that houses the College Prep Program, a day care center, and many ESL classes–is located at the intersection with the highest murder rate in the entire city. She claimed that if I was able to look at a map of Boston murders in the last few years, the dots would radiate from this very corner. (I found this:Boston Murder Map 2010)
As I understand it, the population at the Log School tends to be fairly local and are in serious need of the CBD services. The young participants now have a safe haven they didn’t have before and a means of finding a whole slew of opportunities that they have previously been denied. However, coming to school everyday is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved. Another ESL instructor was moved to a different building in the last month and her husband is throwing her a party because he is so ecstatic that she wont be walking around Bowdoin and Norton Street.
I have taken it upon myself to learn the bus system, which may or may not be any safer than walking. With the impending early darkness of winter, I fear that my visits to this location will become increasingly sparse. My brother suggested Mace, but my tendency toward clumsiness pretty much rules that out. The other Hine Fellow suggested introducing myself to every store owner on the block (including the excessively advertised liquor store directly across the street), providing me with a small community of people who recognize me and will hopefully look out for me. I should do this soon, but now I am paranoid and my naive sense of comfort is completely dismantled. It certainly doesn’t help that I have to lug around expensive photography or video equipment every day…
The my reflection ends with this: I am perhaps safer in this area because I am so obviously an outsider and the reality is that harming me might lead to more trouble than harming some locals. That being said, I can’t really imagine having to live everyday in an area where I wouldn’t feel safe to stay at home, let alone walk around the corner.