Saturday, March 3, 2012

Slice of Life Challenge- #3

Saturday morning. The post office is the fourth or fifth stop on what seems an endless list of errands. There is no parking on the street, so I bump my way into a cracked and rutted parking lot across the street. The parking lot used to be part of a shopping center, but rival gangs burned that down several years ago. At some point, the area is supposed to be turned into a Boys and Girls' Club, but so far, all they have completed is a basketball court.

The long line in the post office reflects the diversity of my community. An elderly African American woman waits to mail a package to Atlanta. Another African American gentleman, probably about my age, asks the clerk for a money order, then pulls $1500 cash out of his wallet to pay for it. Two women, apparently mother and daughter converse in Spanish. The woman in front of me answers her phone in what sounds similar to the African language some of my students have spoken. I wonder if I should tell her that the U.S. post office probably won't take an envelope with a stamp and then an extra penny carefully taped next to it. I decide to leave that to the woman working at the counter.

I realize I have left the return address off about half of my bills. I am scrawling my address on envelopes when I hear a voice I recognize, but can't quite place. I look and see Carlos, a little guy I taught in a reading intervention group three years ago.

In third grade, Carlos, an English Language Learner,  read at a mid first grade level. He loved books, however, and was a joyful and engaged reader. He was fascinated by an intervention book about Venus Fly Traps, and checked out several others from the library, then begged me to find him more. He loved the STINK books, especially the one with the guinea pigs, and returned to that book again and again. Carlos was a sweet, sweet, gentle, all around good guy, one of those kids who reminds you, on a daily basis, why you became a teacher.

I watch Carlos at the counter, interacting with the postal clerk.

"I need a money order, please, and one stamp."

"How much on the money order?"

"Four hundred dollars."

"That will be 403.25 with the stamp."

I watch as Carlos pulls $410 cash out of his back pocket.  That's a lot of cash for a twelve-year-old to be carrying around. In this neighborhood, I'd worry not only about him losing it, but about somebody stealing it from him. Carlos chews on the cuff of his shirt as the clerk completes his transaction and I wonder if perhaps he was a little nervous about carrying around that much money.

The clerk hands Carlos his money order, and  he positions the red stamp carefully under his thumb and steps away from the counter. I say his name and he stops.

"Carlos, hi."

"Hi Miss. How are you?"

I think maybe he will give me one of his delicious hugs, but Carlos, always shy, is older and seems more reserved, and we have not seen each other in almost two years.

"I'm good. Where are you going to school?"

"I'm at Jones." I'm not surprised to hear this- Jones is not the neighborhood middle school, but it's one that the fifth grade teacher thinks most effectively meets the needs of ELL kids, and most of the students from her class go to that school.

"And stuff is going ok?"

"Yeah. Good," he says, smiling that sweet smile I always loved.

"It's so good to see you," I say, and he walks away with his $400 money order in hand.

 I am left marveling over a kid, who has never been more than partially proficient on the state tests, but  capably negotiates two language worlds, carrying around $410 in his pocket, and handling transactions that some adults, me included, would have to think about. (How many money orders have you bought in your adult life?) And he's kind and sweet and respectful and honest, to boot.

That's a kid who is definitely going to be proficient in life.


Linda B said...

Carol, thank you for this story. I am currently teaching a short story group to a group of twelves and up & we are focusing on short stories about immigration and many of the stories I've found, from many cultures, shows chlldren taking care of more things than my students would ever imagine doing right now. This will be a lead in to a conversation next week. I know there are many children out there being more responsible and handling more things than the tests assess. And yet we are telling them & their teachers they are not doing well. I wish we could bridge that disconnect!

elsie said...

I love your clear descriptions (bump my way into a cracked and rutted parking lot).
It made me sad that Carlos was too grown up to give you a hug.

Cathy said...

Carol, I so enjoyed your story of Carlos. Sometimes schools do not take into consideration all that kids are capable of doing. That is a lot of responsibility for a young boy. I have to agree with Linda, that many children handle things much more important and complex than standardized assessments. Thanks for sharing your story.

Jen said...

Wow! I love that - proficient in life. That sounds strong and capable. It is reassuring to see Carlos will be the kind of kid who will make it. You know he has what it takes! He was/is lucky to have you cheering him on. :)

Nanc said...

okay...this is so heart-breaking too...that a 12 year old is negotiating this...but I catch the hope in your voice and the joy at remembering the Venus Fly Trap Linda, I wish that we could have a forum for the powers that be about how much our children really do know.