Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Save the Amaryllis!

I have been out in schools this week observing my practicum students in special education classrooms. The two schools that I visited were both schools for kids who can't find success in the neighborhood school. In these classrooms are adolescents who are failing in almost every area of their young lives. They have lived in multiple foster homes, they have been victims of abuse, they are "credit deficient" towards graduating, they are poor, and they are at high risk of dropping out of school. They have "emotional and behavioral disorders"....and why not? My two graduate students overwhelmed me with their care and their skills working with these students. One of these students just finished his masters in teaching and was interested in special education so I recruited him for a second masters degree. So did Edgar (our Papi of the Mariners) and Holli Martinez with their commitment to assuring that we have teachers from underrepresented populations in our schools and more minority students become teachers. They do this through the work of the Martinez Foundation. The Martinez's join me in our shared pride of my grad student, Mr. DeLeon. The young students themselves were awesome and so worth the effort to provide them services and support to keep them in school and prepare them for life after high school. My own research tells me that over 50% of these kids will drop out of high school. The national research tells me that one high school dropout contributes about $60,000 less in taxes over a lifetime and if the male graduation rate were increased by only 5 percent, the nation would see an annual savings of $4.9 billion in crime-related costs. So what's with the amaryllis? I visited a high school that holds approximately 150 teen-agers, all at high risk of dropping out. They were there because they couldn't be successful in a traditional high school. Mr. DeLeon held them spell-bound as he taught them how to write a thesis statement. (Really!) Their interest peaked as the students wrote their statements concerning certain types of automobiles and basketball players. My grad student, dressed in slacks and a tie, holding court in a beat up portable behind a beat up school building, kept their attention for the entire time I was there by assuring there was relevancy in his lesson to their own lives and interests. So what's with the amaryllis? When I walked into the front door of this sorry and neglected school (not by the teachers or students) I noticed a gigantic amaryllis sitting on the counter in the front office. I have never seen one so huge. There were at least 10 large red, orange and white streaked blooms, all larger than my two fists. The secretary told me that they had a horticulture program and the vocational teacher babied this thing year after year. I was astounded. Astounishment turned to sadness when she told me that the program, green house and teacher would all be gone next fall. Budget cuts. The students love this class and are able to retreive science credits for their studies of plants and their work with the teacher, in the dirt, making real the words on the page. The research also tells us that to keep kids in school we must provide a relevent curriculum and for many of these young, disengaged and disenchanted students digging in the dirt, making things grow and understanding photosynthesis while experiencing it first hand is enough to hook them and perhaps help them take the next step to graduation, further training and employment. It might affect only a handful of the students in this school but these cuts are happening all over the country. As we push all students to reach No Child Left Behind we are leaving a few behind. Our most vulnerable kids are searching for mentors, support and a reason to choose school each day over everything else going on in their difficult young lives. The teacher knew how to nurture the amaryllis. We know how to nurture these kids. The cost of keeping this program is less than a handful of dropouts. The amaryllis will likely go home with the teacher next year and bloom again but what about Hector, Jorge, Conrad, Jermaine, Rashan, Mary, and Shatoya?

10 comments:

froggy said...

Just had an article in our paper about greenhouses in two of our elementary schools. Went back to see where the money came from.
http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2010/02/25/917105/schools-2-elementary-schools-in.html
Maybe there is some creative financing out there.

Jen said...

Budget cuts, I had better not get started on them. We are having similiar difficulties in my country and children with special needs are going to be worst hit. Very short sighted, as you rightly pointed out with the stats. I hope the school can come up with something and wish them all the best. Jen.

Judith Ellis said...

Cinda - I so value the work that you do. My sister has fostered some 30 kids and many of them seem to have had some form of mental disorder. (Is that the appropriate terminology?) I often wonder that besides clinical factors if environment plays a role too. I have a cousin who is bi-polar. His signs were not evident until after his degrees at Boston University and Julliard. Perhaps there were signs before that went unnoticed. I don't know. I never picked up on any. Getting these, no matter the age, to bloom where they are must indeed be challenging, but also rewarding. We are grateful for your work. You inspire all of us towards patience, tolerance and activism. Thank you.

Meg said...

Wow. I really hear you on this. We are having our own issues with underfunded special education programs in our schools. What a mess. The teachers are overwhelmed and over stressed, programs are being cut left and right, and children are not getting the education they deserve or need to function in the world outside of school. As a nation we need to do much better than we are doing right now.

Accidental Expert said...

Its amazing how short sided our country is when it comes to cutting funds for proper education. When you look at the costs of under-achieving kids that reach adulthood, its a no-brainer. Save the flower indeed!

Cinda said...

Froggy and Elizabeth, I forwarded the info to my "contact" in the school. Thank you! Jen, Meg, and Accidental Expert, you "get it" as well. Judith, I am ready to start yelling at the national level. My new "oh no" for the day. An alternative high school that literally picks up the "dregs" (beautiful kids who are completely failing in their mainstream high school) was just told today that they did not meet standards and will be closed next year. Why? Dropout rates. ANALYZE the data!! The school keeps these kids until they are stable enough to go back to their home school (h.s) and they graduate more of them than if they would have stayed in their h.s. but the overall grad rate is low DUE to the type of kids they have. No, they aren't passing the "TEST" but they are increasing reading skills from 2nd grade to 4th grade. Overwhelmed....Thank you for listening/reading my rant. C.

Judith Ellis said...

Ah, you are doing so very well, Cinda. Your work matters. It is totally okay to SCREAM, especially at the federal Level. Or, is it the state level that matters most in concerns dealing with high school students? Doesn't the allocation of funds reside with the state? I thought so, but I'm not certain. Policy I assume also trickles down from the federal level. I love it that these students are increasing in skill set from 2nd grade to 4th grade. Awesome! The fact that they are increasing in knowledge is what's most important. Keep the faith!

Meg said...

The alternative school near us may close next year as well. It's really sad. Check out my post today and you will see where shutting down the special ed services and mainstreaming all kids gets our schools. Not good.

Corrie Howe said...

I really enjoyed this. It reminds me of the school that my student, for whom I was a parent surrogate, attended. And his story is the same. He did graduate high school, but last I heard no one has heard from him since he went right back into the same situation the state pulled him out of ten years ago and tried to help him. Sigh.

Mari said...

Thank you for this story! I am part of the Martinez Foundation staff and we are also so proud and impressed with Monico DeLeon. I appreciate the statistics you mention about drop out rates, as well. Well done!