For me, this student's story captures better than almost anything else I have read the tragic position of working-class parents of color in inner-city public schools.
I was the parent advocate for my own son. I had to advocate for his ADD disability. The origin of the advocacy initiative was the school saying if my son doesn’t take his medicine he cannot come to the school any more. I had a problem with this because when he was on the medicine he became a zombie and no learning was taking place. He was suspended more than he was at school. So my journey began with me being a parent who needed to advocate for my son who could not speak for himself.
First I had to deal with real emotions from the teachers who were tired of dealing with my son on a day to day situation. He was extremely out of order in class every day.
I was called to come to the school every day. Which made me lose two jobs. Taking care of my son’s educational needs ending up being my fulltime job. I had to advocate for my son’s education because the school district had decided if he didn’t take his medicine then you might as well keep him at home. I would come to the school in the mornings to calm him and help him get the morning classes out he way, and hopefully I could leave but normally that was not the case.
I knew I had to find a teacher my son liked in the school so that we could get the process of learning started. Once I found the teacher that could deal with him, the school said no that he was to stay put in the class he was in. I don’t take no very well, and I had to figure out how to get this principal to change her mind on his placement. The first thing I did was go directly to the principal and appeal to her that my son needed to be with a teacher that he respected and enjoyed being with. She still said no.
The next step I had to come up with is to get his IEPs scheduled more frequently, like once a week until we get a handle on his behavior. The IEPs helped a little, I could tell the principal had an attitude problem and the teacher was just staring into space. The only person who seemed interested was the school psychologist. The meetings were supposed to benefit my child but they always turned into me being a bad parent by not giving my son his medicine. I knew I had to find a way to ask the right questions, because I felt the school perceived me in a bad light. Possibly a parent from the ghetto who was using the school as a baby sitter. In the beginning I didn’t know how to ask the right questions because the staff was always on defensive and that made me go on defensive with them.
I knew I had to understand the playing field better. Who could I trust? They needed to know what my expectations were for my child.
I got extremely frustrated at one point because the only thing the school was saying to me was force the medicine in him. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I defiantly was on the wrong side of the playing field with these educators who were smarter than me. I learned to write down everything , keep a journal so when stuff changes I would not have to remember by memory. I had 3 years of journals to refer back to.
The next step was how to deal with a hostile environment in the school. The staff, to me, was taking this too personal. Sometimes even yelling at my son telling him he was bad and going to be stupid. This type of environment was not conducive for learning for any one.
The next approach was to find ways of boosting my child s ego before he got to school. I would tell him that he was going to be the best kid today. And that if he could make it to lunch with no outbursts, tantrums, or attacking some one I would reward him with going to the park to play. I know he had a lot of energy and needed to get the steam off. If my son woke up in a bad mood it had to do with something he went through the night before, and I would have to solve this before I would take him to school. It would take till he got to the 6th grade before the outburst would stop. Because soothing him before he got to school did not work.
When my son got in the 6th grade I realized he still could not read or write, he was at a 3rd grade level so I had to hire him a tutor to get him up to par. The IEPs did not address his education they were only addressing his behavior. So not only was the school failing him I was failing him. So myself and the tutor took upon ourselves to have school every day and teach him his abc’s how to write and his math was below par too.
At this point I had to find a job to support us. My advocacy turned to letter writing first to the school district, then to a lawyer. I wrote so many letters my fingers were numb. I needed to find some one to help me with my case. My son’s education was suffering because the only thing the school was concentrating on was his behavior. He was being shipped from one alternative school to another. And he was not learning a thing. I became an assertive parent advocate so that I could be a effective parent in helping my child get educated. I talked to whoever would listen to me. I was at the school board more than I was at work. . . .
I finally found an educational advocate for my son, someone to speak for him at his IEP meetings. This worked because the staff listened to her she was one of their peers and could not say some of the dumb stuff they had said to me over the years. I found too that I had to keep up with the documents that labeled him mentally retarded. My son was not mental he had a severe behavior problem and I knew this was going to hinder him from learning because if everyday he was acting out he was not learning. I knew the resources were limited and I did not care, I asked for whatever the school district had in the budget to use for my son. I asked the school to hire him a mentor to walk with him to every class so he could stay focused on going to class and actually entering the class room and not walking the hallways. This worked perfectly until the school received budget cuts and the first person to go was my son mentor. I knew I had to walk in the schools shoes and I needed them to help want to help my child. This was a hard task, because once you start asking for things for your child you get labeled as the enemy.
I failed as an educator advocate for my child he is now 16 in and out of jail, he still can't read or write that good and if you ask him if he wants to go to school he will tell you no. My child has turned down any help we have offered him and at this point I hope he graduates, I don’t see this happening because he is 16 and still in the 9th grade. Nothing worked after he got old enough to say no to the forced medicine at school. . . .
Nothing happened because the school district fought me tooth and nail. They did not care if my son got educated, he was passed to the 9th grade and that is where he probably will be when he turns 18. My efforts went unnoticed because I was only advocating for my son, I did not meet any other parents that had children with type of disorder.
I learned that the school district has a long way to go on compassion for children that have problems. I was beat down so many times because I didn’t know the right questions to ask. Anybody who met my kid either hated or loved him. I fought a long and hard fight for my son but he has now chosen the thug life and school is on the bottom of his agenda. I have not given up. I do pray for him and call and encourage him. But when teens have their mind made up that they are already grown and can make their own decisions there is basically not much you can do. I have learned that you can only do so much with little support from educators who are supposed to be on your side. Yes I probably should have given my son the drugs but I still feel today that they should open schools for children like my son so that they can get the education they deserve and not focus solely on his behavior.