Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Save the Amaryllis!
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?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