Rant: Failing our Kids
I literally work with kids who would resemble today’s 80’s movies, like Breakfast Club. I have the Brians (gifted and talented, advanced, super smart, driven) who buckle down, do homework projects, get into the magnet schools and the career high school, know what they want and how they’re going to get there. I have the Claires (completely into social status and using it to get things), who can work the system and will give attitude to the library worker they feel is most likely to crack, yet will talk to me for hours on end about the latest boyfriend or fashion they’re in love with. I have the Allisons (wandering in and out, hoping that someone might notice but usually just in the back, unwilling to spark a conversation but once you get them going they will talk about anything). I have the Andrews (completely into sports for scholarships and teambuilding and trying to work that around school and everything else, and can’t wait to tell me about the latest game). I have the Benders (acting out against anything and everything, rebelling to rebel and hurting inside).
Yet a lot of times, I also have the Camerons.
Cameron, if you remember from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is the sidekick. He’s normal, if a little anxiety prone, and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He’s stuck between his parents, he’s middle of the road in grades… he’s not special. When Ferris was made in 1986, he would make it to college at the University of Illinois, then have a nice life somewhere (in fact, we see him in Speed) .
But not today. Today, the Camerons are tested every year for standards that are different across the country, and if they need help, they can easily fall through the cracks just because they are in the middle. They are stacked 30+ to a classroom, and if they speak English as a second language, they have to learn fast because if they fail a grade they can be sent to the alternative school where their chance of graduating or even getting scheduled is laughable.
The first is now a “new adult”, and came to the US when he was 4. FOUR. He’s been going to the school district since KINDERGARTEN. He failed a grade, failed a couple of other classes, and during his time in high school the district built this new alternative high school which was to marketed as a place to get a high school diploma through innovative and technology-driven instruction. Originally, it was to be offered for those older than the typical high school students (23 & up) who didn’t get their high school diplomas. What it’s turned into is a dumping ground for the “normal” high school, for those who look like they won’t graduate on time. My new adult was one- he wasn’t going to graduate on time, and was going to take an extra year and a half. Instead of letting him finish out and graduate at his high school, the administration TOLD HIM and HIS FAMILY point blank that he had to transfer to the alternative school in order to get his diploma- he didn’t have a choice.
So he did.
The alternative school did not register him for classes the first semester- they told him they were full. They didn’t register him for the second semester- again, they were full. Never mind that they were offering three sessions of rotating classes and online courses- whatever he needed, they were full. My new adult ended up transferring to Dallas in order to get his high school diploma.
What were the all the administrators of all the schools thinking?
My current teen failed a grade and got behind on his classes, just by messing around. He’ll admit it- he screwed up. He knew he had help waiting here with me and That Guy- we’ve told all the teens this, and they know it. He was catching up and was so excited when the school year started because he had the chance to be on track by this January and graduate with his peers.
Then in October he started showing up at the library during school hours- skipping school. When I asked him what was going on, he said that the guidance counselor said he was probably going to have to go the alternative school, so there was no point in doing the work. Gibbs-smack later and a kick to the butt, he got driven back to school and told to get straight with his classes because there was no way he was going to the alternative school- he was graduating from the high school. That stayed for two weeks.
November, and my teen is more depressed. “Miss, they’re telling me I pretty much have to go to the alternative school.” “NO,” I said, “you have a choice- there’s always a choice, and you don’t have to go. Are you passing?” “Yes, Miss.” “Then stay on track.”
I come back from vacation and being sick, and my staff tells me my teen has been skipping, and I see him in the computer lab. We talk, and he says that the high school has flat out told him that if he doesn’t pass these “tests” (class admittance tests is what he’s calling them) then he’s being transferred and won’t graduate. While I sit him down and let him think about what he wants to do- because if he doesn’t want to fight for his future, I can’t make him- I scour the guidebook. There’s NOTHING in the high school rulebook or anything online that says they will force them to the alternative school. The only things that my teen and my new adult have in common are their race, their socioeconomic status, and the fact that they’re in the middle part of an education system that only helps the top and the bottom.
We sit down with the guidelines for graduation, and turns out if he passes all his classes through this school year, he’s two classes short- that’s SUMMER SCHOOL. Yet, the administration doesn’t want him on their state statistics, so they’re trying to transfer him to the alternative school, where he won’t count. Where he can get lost, and be someone else’s problem.
Not on my watch.
These kids may not be my kids by biology, but they are MY KIDS, and I will fight for them and their rights. If the school system is doing this to these kids, what are they doing to others? And who will be their voices?
Filed under: Education
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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