Isaac got in between his mom and her boyfriend when they were fighting and caught the flying coffee pot right on the corner of his cheekbone. Even through the stitches he refused to cry.
Andre lost his little sister when she rode her bicycle in front of the trolley.
Erica has a parent in prison. Both of Emilio’s parents are incarcerated. Joaquin never knew his parents. Beto is the parent because his mom works three jobs and is still below the poverty level.
But teaching survivors how to add fractions or to sort between metaphors and similes or to distinguish the relative power of the three branches of government-- all while their lives are falling apart around them—is almost cruel.
Then again, it is essential to the healing. In the worst of life crises, school is often the one stable element in children’s lives. So we go on.
But it is a lot to ask children to overcome adversity on their own. They need the support and the structures to persevere. So at El Milagro we build on their natural assets. We intentionally teach them to be resilient, and in fact, to come through fire stronger than before.
We create the processes to monitor students, assess the extent of the services they need, and marshal our resources to fully support them outside of the classroom. Some students need counseling. Some need to be in a support group. Some need vision screening, or a free lunch card, or a Big Brother. Some need the intervention of child protective services. Whatever their needs, we have the system to address it.
Recent reports that the national poverty level has worsened came as neither a surprise nor an epiphany for us. We see the effects every day. We find ways to mitigate against the environmental factors that make academic achievement difficult to engender. Not impossible. Just real tough.
We have become experts in teaching children to overcome poverty; to be resilient. Maybe that is as it should be. But it would far better for kids if the root causes of poverty and despair where addressed in their communities; if there were real systemic solutions to unemployment, crime, neglect, and lack of health care.
If only adults were as resilient as the children they are obligated to serve.
I wonder: what systems are you creating to help children thrive academically... in spite of their life circumstances?
Kevin W. Riley, Ed.D., El Milagro Welog