Saturday, January 14, 2006

I Don't Get It

On Friday all teachers walk their students off campus and take up what amounts to defensive positions around the perimeter because the gang tensions have been swirling a little of lot. You can feel it moving through campus sometimes, this undercurrent, this tension, and standing with the POY, he looks out says, "It's out there," and you think of Jaws and also of how he's right.

I stand out by the bridge, where last year there was a stabbing involving high school kids over gang affiliation, and here comes some of my brood from last year. These five boys. None of them have been speaking English longer than three years, some maybe half that time. They enter the newcomer center with our two amazing teachers, and when they are conversant and possessed of foundational skills, they come to me, 8th graders in a 7th grade class, but we make it work easily. And these kids finish the year Basic (B), the middle ranking in California's 5-stage hierarchy -- an impressive feat that flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says it will take five years for them to reach that level of accomplishment, (but one which would be roundly dismissed as insufficient and my celebration an example of lowered standards by those who so love to critique public school teachers).

We talk in Spanglish and I ask them about their schools and sports and I find out they did not try out for the soccer team. I ask why?

"Oye, they wanted money, maestro."

What? For what?

"Por uniforme. $120."

These kids attend a "public" charter school with the name "Latino" in it, a place dedicated to serving motivated students with decent backgrounds in their primary language, whose lack of English fluency would make success in high school extraordinarily difficult, to say the least. A worthy goal, and moreover, the type of charter school I support in principle -- it targets students of the most need, not the reverse Robin Hood of most of them. But now. This school ought to understand that $120 for a uniform is a ridiculous amount for families in this community to pay, and that moreover, requiring payment to participate in athletics, at your so-called public school, is grossly unjust. Explain to me how this makes sense, how a school like that, in a community like this, does not -- or claims not -- to have enough money for soccer uniforms. Are you kidding?

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