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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tales from the Inner City: Part 1

I worked at Orchard Villa Elementary School for 3.25 years between 2005-2008.  It was one of the most amazing learning experiences of my life.  Through this blog I hope to share some of my experiences working in a neighborhood that was once foreign to me, but that I now return to time and time again.  You surely won’t agree with everything I have to say here, but they are my experiences, and my memories, whether they are retrospectively falsified or not.

Orchard Villa Elementary is located in Liberty City, the heart of Miami-Dade County.  The attendance boundaries of Orchard Villa include NW 61st Street, the most dangerous street in the entire county, a title certainly not to be proud of, but one that must be respected.  Our students came from 61st and the surrounding neighborhood.  We did, however, have several out-of-boundary students that would flow in on occasion, without the knowledge of the school board of course.

I had the privilege to have one such student.  Being a 3rd grade teacher I had the responsibility to help my students pass the 3rd grade Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, an assessment that had to be passed in order to proceed to the next grade.  It didn’t help that many of my students entered my class reading on a Kindergarten level, or below.  Alas, I digress.  Xavier, as I will call him, lived much farther north than the school, to the point that every single day of the first 3 weeks of school he was tardy by at least 30 minutes.  Since Reading was the first subject taught every morning, Xavier was missing 30 minutes of Reading instruction daily.  Oh, and he needed that instruction.  I knew that if he wasn’t present every day, for every minute, that he would not pass the 3rd grade FCAT.

I made the decision that as long as Xavier was in my class, he would come on time.  I talked to his mom and explained to her the seriousness of the situation, and then I volunteered to pick him up every morning from where he lived, and drop him off every afternoon.  This resulted in the inclusion of his younger brother into the plan, as he also attended Orchard Villa.

Xavier, his brother, his mother, and her boyfriend lived in a hotel.  Well, it looked like a hotel, but didn’t exactly include the amenities of the Four Seasons.  It was dingy, disgusting, smelled, and in fact is today closed.  At the time, however, for $150.00 a week, a room could be rented to at least live, until the next week.  Every morning I would pick up Xavier and his brother at 6:30 AM, this would give us enough time to get to school by 7:00AM, complete morning tutoring, and even have breakfast before school began at 8:00 AM.  At the hotel I was greeted every morning by the large security guard, who called me “Teach”, and made sure I wasn’t messed with.  There were times that I would walk Xavier and his brother up to their room, only for their mom to open the door and plumes of marijuana smoke escaped through the door.  It was a very sad situation overall, but I knew that if I could get those 2 kids to school on-time, everyday, that not only would they eat a nutritious breakfast every morning, they would receive free tutoring, participate in a full day of education, and hopefully, attain some level of academic knowledge.  For 2 months it went on, a successful plan at work; and I felt like I was making a difference.

It was a Monday morning, a week or so before Thanksgiving.  As usual I rode up I-95 early in the morning to pick up Xavier and his brother.  I arrived promptly at 6:30, phoned their mother to let her know I was there: no answer.  Ok, a phone being off wasn’t unusual, so I stepped out of the car and went inside.  Dressed in a suit, as I did every day of my teaching career, I walked into the hotel and headed towards the elevators.  “Hey Teach”, I heard the large security guard call out to me.  “Are you looking for those kids?” he asked.  “Well” he said, “they don’t live here anymore.”  A look of bewilderment came over my face, but there was nothing I could do but turn around and walk right back out the door to my car. 

That was the last time I heard from Xavier, his brother, his mother, or her boyfriend.  To this day I have no idea where they went or what happened to them.  That is the reality of teaching in an inner city school.  Students come, and they go.  Most unfortunately, the cycle continues.  I pray for Xavier and his brother, that they have found academic success somewhere else, because certainly, the odds are against them.

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