Taft Elementary is a school I where I volunteer a lot of time. It's in the inner city of Youngstown, Ohio in a blighted neighborhood. When I saw the Facebook app to help donate to different schools, I noticed that nobody had even once clicked for my humble little Taft. It's a great school with wiggly young children, eager to learn. They come from walks of life most of us will never experience, but they never fail to have a smile when I come to their classroom.
Here are a few excerpts to stories I've told about my adventures there. Let's help their teachers get some supplies, because I know any teacher out there can tell you they buy them out of their own wallet.
from The Value of Teachers, October 19, 2011:
The building is only 4 years old. As I was walk in, I notice two smashed windows held together with duct tape. I'm not sure if it was a gun or rock or what exactly was used to smash the windows. I can only hope it was after school hours. There are signs all around the block "school zone" no shooting/drugs/etc.
As if. We're assuming those doing the shooting have respect. In the past month alone, there have been 3 random shootings in this neighborhood. Admittedly, I'm nervous driving through there, but I think if everyone is afraid to go in, the children will never see a way out.
While I walked out, I see the flag on the flagpole hanging upside down. I've got a really strong patriotic streak, and I almost marched back into the school to tell them that the flag was hung wrong, but then I realized how busy they really are. The school doesn't have time to fix the flag. But it just made me sad. I've heard an upside down flag is a sign of distress. That certainly is the truth regarding this district.
When I was driving away, I saw an elderly gentleman walking along the sidewalk. He was wearing dress trousers, a fisherman's type of hat, a cardigan sweater, and was carrying a single golf club over his shoulder, presumably as a weapon if needed. Either that or his golf league had one last round and he was walking to the course. I'm gonna guess option A.
One sad reality in today’s world is that only about 70% of high school students will actually graduate. That statistic is closer to 55% at inner city schools, in crime ridden areas with high poverty levels.
... as I drove through the tired neighborhood filled with boarded up homes that surround the school where I was volunteering. I reminded myself that my car had an alarm as I parked it and tried to put aside my concerns. I wondered what it must be like to walk these streets where most of the sidewalks were heaped with snow, unshoveled, every day to school.
I walked into the classroom and it was stacked with crates and papers in a state of complete disarray. The teacher explained in an exasperated voice that the roof leaked in her classroom and that the contractor and the architect were fighting over whose fault it was and instead just kept replacing ceiling tiles. My first impression was how sad it was that such an investment was being wasted. Then I realized the investment wasn’t the building but the 21 little people whose bright eyes stared back at me with enthusiasm and energy.
Well, actually only 20 of those 21 eyes. One little guy was sound asleep, head down on his desk. As I went around the room introducing myself to each child and asking what they wanted to be when they grew up...
When I got to the sleepy guy, his table mates said, he always sleeps. I glanced at the teacher and she nodded her head in agreement. I felt sad that he would miss our fun and educational time, but neither did I want to disrespect the teacher who dealt with him on a daily basis.
Apparently, it was acceptable to let him sleep. I wondered momentarily about a second grader whose parent(s) didn’t make him go to bed, or perhaps even worse, who for any variety of reasons didn’t feel safe sleeping in his home.
My children excitedly announced that they wanted to be police officers, fire fighters, nurses, veterinarians, singers, soldiers and teachers. Typical second grade dreams. I had to pause for a moment when one little boy told me he wanted to be a gang maker. I asked him to repeat that and explain to me what he meant. He said you know, like video games, I want to invent video games. I blushed at the mistaken conclusion I had reached.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what it must be like for someone who deals with it every day and the kids who have seen more in their seven years than most of us ever will see. I hated to think that statistically, only about half those children will even finish high school. I hated to think of the violence and crime that surrounds their world, as I only have to look on the front page of our local paper for proof. I hated to realize that my hopeful game maker, with a few bad influences, could indeed become a gang maker instead.
I want to keep the faith. I want to believe we can make a difference. I think it takes the naïve enthusiasm from someone who hasn’t lost their hope, whose spirit hasn’t been dampened from leaks. I want to think about a building that is solid from the inside out, where leaks aren’t ignored by bickering about where to cast blame. We can stop the chaos one leaky drop at a time.
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