Part of my job as a school counselor in my large, urban district is to coordinate my school's attendance procedures, which often means trying to track down students who are chronically truant or have never even set foot in the building. It can be a daunting task, to say the least. But this week, it has been a humbling and very educational experience that I haven't been able to stop thinking about.
After being unable to reach a handful of students via phone and in writing, a colleague of mine and I decided to hop in the car and do some home visits. It's lucky for me that my coworker is a formidable-looking African-American man who himself grew up in the district we work for because let's face it, I'm the whitest white girl you ever met and we were headed to some of the city's worst neighborhoods. And I totally wasn't prepared for what we encountered. I've been in this district for six years now and in that time I've worked with hundreds of kids. But I've never been to any of their homes. One afternoon of knocking on doors has given me a completely new perspective on what they're dealing with every day. We encountered a landlord who had just evicted the family we were looking for and could care less where they were or if they were safe. We stood on porches with the smells of stale cigarette smoke, moth balls or bleach wafting out to us. We saw moldy, rotted wood floors that children play on, and talked to a teenager whose parent was no longer even living in his home. We drove down streets our students use to walk to school, streets where dealers stepped off the curb to approach our car, but ended up thinking better of it ("the only reason they didn't come up here is because you're in the car," my coworker explained, "and i'm wearing a tie. They probably think we're cops.") Upon glimpsing our last stop, an apartment building in what may be the city's most dangerous neighborhood, my colleague struggled with not wanting to take me in with him, but not wanting to leave me in the car, either. And this is where our students live. How can we expect them to focus on school sometimes?
My mama heart is also aching for these mothers. Every day, they send their children out the door into this environment. These are the homes they bring their new babies to live in. I can't imagine what they think and feel every day. And even though we don't love our little house, it made me so grateful for what we have, and for what Sweetie Pea will have growing up.
What a moving and profound couple of hours.