Monday, August 27, 2012

Two Miles

My old school and my new school are two miles apart. To be specific, 1.99 miles. I'm sure if you were walking and didn't have to deal with the roads you could do it in a mile and a half if not a mile. There is almost nothing separating them but one main road. A road that is essentially "the tracks" with my old school being "on the other side".

We met many of our kindergarten students at kindergarten orientation earlier this week. They were lively and excited, wide-eyed and smiling. On paper some of the students are the same as my old school. They are learning to speak English and they receive free or reduced lunch. Yet just from the few hours at orientation we could tell the difference. The way they followed directions, respected adult authority, talked to their peers, drew pictures, and wrote their names was vastly different than what I am use to from kindergarten students. In fact, it was what I would except to see from first graders at my old school.

While many of us were excited as we watched how capable these children were I couldn't help but feel devastated.  The difference is enormous and frankly, in the words of a five year old, just not fair.

The apartment building the new school is pulling from is a palace compared to the buildings my old school pulled from. The playground on the apartment's grounds is clean and bright. The balconies look well taken care of and large. A drive through the parking lot of the building looks like it would be a place I'd like to live. In fact, I've known teachers who lived there.

A drive through the parking lots where my students lived last year did not leave me with that same feeling of security. Inside their apartments are usually many families sharing too small a space- one family per room, a living room divided into two to create room for yet another family, with people constantly coming and going. There is even a sign people use on their balconies to let others know they have space on their floor and people can come in and sleep their that night. It is a different place. A different world.

On paper the families in these two apartment buildings look about the same. Yet as I watched the rising kindergartners draw and smile and follow directions the vast difference in their backgrounds was obvious. I wanted to cry for my old students. It is a reminder that the struggles in education isn't about race or what language they speak or where the children come from. It's not about what's on paper or what we see when we take a quick look at a classroom filled with children. To fully understand where children are coming from you must look deeper.

 It's about the resources their families have. If you come from a family who has the resources to live alone in an apartment, to have each adult only work one job so they are home to put you in bed at night, if your family can put you in daycare where you are talked to, loved, read to, and played with- if your family has someone to go to when they are frustrated with your five year old antics- if your family has the energy and time to put routines in place for you between their jobs and responsibilities- if your family can read in their native language, or has more than a fourth grade education in their native country, you are blessed no matter what your race, language, or poverty level.

As a teacher I became accustomed to the backgrounds of my students until they were normal. I stopped questioning or being shocked at what I heard and saw from my students. Watching these new students jolted me awake.  As I adjust to the new culture of these new students I have a feeling I'll be thinking about my former students frequently, wondering how they are doing.

How can two miles make such a difference?


luckeyfrog said...

My new and old schools are about 5 miles apart, and the difference is phenomenal. 94% free and reduced lunch to less than 10%. Instead of carrying home backpacks of food on the weekends, kids are going to tutoring just for enrichment. Instead of ongoing lice epidemics, I didn't have one incident last year. It's amazing what a difference there is, and frustrating how so many in our community believe that my new school is "better" and should get all of the credit for these professors' kids doing better on standardized tests than the ones whose parents are in jail or on drugs.

I think "Two Miles" or "Five Miles" would make an excellent book topic.


organized chaos said...

I think I'm going to be getting use to this difference all year- today they showed us how many ELL kids we will have and while everyone else sounded shocked at how many there were I couldn't believe how few there were! It's going to be very different.
I love the idea of "two miles" or "five miles" as a book topic. Maybe we should co-author one :)