The elementary school I work at now is not private. There are three kindergarten classes, three first grade classrooms, three second grade classrooms. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend an identical school down the street. More than 60 percent of our students are Hispanic. More than forty percent do not live with their parents.
Last week, *Marius was thrown out of school. He’d been a problem all year, had barricaded himself in the bathroom and was stuffing toilet paper into all of the toilets. He refused to come out, and, when he finally did, was chased down and taken to the office to wait for his grandmother. Marius has blond curls and blue eyes and baby chub. Marius is in kindergarten.
Aaron was unwanted as an infant. He was passed from foster home to foster home until he was adopted by an older couple at age three. He has reactive attachment disorder and steals things and lies about it. He grabs and bites and kicks and doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t like him. He takes medication and falls asleep at school every day. Aaron is five.
Lacy was born with a cleft lip. She lived in a van with her mother while her mom was on drugs and a prostitute last year. Lacy lives with her aunt and grandparents now. She is incredibly athletic. She told her teacher that her mom will be in prison until she’s ten.
Sarah’s mother has been in and out of her life for years now. Her father is in the military, and when he’s away, she goes to foster care. Despite her noticeable beauty, Sarah is slow to smile and seems unsure of herself.
Darius stays up until 2 a.m. playing Mortal Kombat. He “used to have bad grades, ‘a long time ago’ when he was in preschool,” but now, he says, he’s a much better student. He’s missing both his front teeth. His reddish-brown freckles are an exact match of his eyes and buzzed-cut hair.
Madison was adopted and has older brothers. She receives little attention at home and will do anything, anything to be noticed at school. This includes misbehaving, stealing things, blurting instead of raising her hand, lying, and more.
Darren comes to school with only a bag of potato chips. He gets upset at snack time and calls his mother a bitch. He’s slow to learn and says he’s fat (he’s not), and, last Christmas, told his teachers he wished he were dead. When some of his classmates were going to kill a bug one day at recess, however, he intervened. “Don’t! Don’t kill it!” he said. “Animals are s’posed to be a-live!!” Darren has stolen my heart.
And, as I watch these children, and watch how they interact with each other; and when I realize that there was a time when someone had to explain to me what a “tattle tale” was, and that “ea” usually makes the long ē sound, as in “eat,” but can also sometimes sound like ā, as in “great”; and as I realize that home is where children are supposed to feel cherished and safe, but that, for some of them, home is anything but . . . I wonder what will become of these children, and at how some are so lucky while others are not; and I am amazed by the heart of teachers (with their early gray hair and never-ending pools of patience); and I am thoughtful of my own upbringing, and of the person I became, and of the things that have made me “me.”
All children are special. All deserve to be loved. All of us were once children. All of us have a story to to tell — some of us just have harder stories than others.
*All names have been changed.