Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I had a wonderful surprise today. I got a phone call from a former student, Estefany.
She was one of my students at the first non-traditional school I taught at in a nearby town. She had become involved in gangs in middle school, doing drugs and drinking, then she dropped out and got pregnant. Or got pregnant and dropped out.
She was sooooooooooooooooooooo not the typical teenage mother that I usually encounter.
When her son Albert was born, she completely turned her life around. She started going to church, and she came to our school to get her diploma. Sadly, she met all the course requirements, but all she ever got was a Certificate of Attendance because she could not pass the state graduation test in a couple of areas. For those of you who don't live in our state, there are five sections of the test: math, language arts, science, social studies, and writing.
The math is on about an eighth grade level, maybe ninth. The language arts section requires that students read passages and answer the questions. With some occasional literary terms and devices thrown in. The writing is a persuasive essay, and as long as students remember that a single paragraph does not an essay make, they generally do okay.
The science and social studies portions of the tests are Of. The. Devil. I'm not sure I could pass them, with my three college degrees. They're evil. They have a huge failure rate. They test trivia and recall information that science and social studies teachers are aghast at. I just ended a sentence with a preposition and I don't care. The tests are cruel and keep hundreds (thousands?) of students in our state from receiving a high school diploma every year. They can take it as many times as they want until they pass it. We have students still returning 3 and 4 years after graduation, trying to pass that test. Most just give up and get their GEDs and wonder why the hell they even tried. Some are content just to walk across the stage wearing a robe at graduation, and they figure no one knows what was in the envelope anyway. It doesn't bother them that they don't actually have a diploma. And other than teachers and parents and school administrators and students, no one appears to be the slightest bit concerned that there just may be something wrong with THE TESTS.
I'm guessing Estefany actually cares, but she probably figures the cards are stacked against her. She is of Hispanic descent, her mother speaks very little English, she has this child to take care of, and in addition to her language barrier, she had all those missing days from middle school and high school before she got her act together. The gaps are just too large to fill, even with extensive remediation. When she was coming to our school she couldn't get a driver's license because she was born in Mexico, and although she was brought here at a very young age, she couldn't get a social security number. She drove to school without a license when she had to because she wanted to graduate from high school.
While at our school, she took Latin through the same online school where I now teach part-time. Part of the reason I decided to work for them was because when I was helping Estefany with her Latin course, I was impressed with the rigor and the high expectations of the online world. Plus it was new and innovative and used some cool tools, so it was right up my alley.
About halfway through the Latin course, which was extremely time-consuming and VERY difficult, not to mention having very strict deadlines, Estefany discovered that she didn't have to take a foreign language at all for her paticular diploma type. But she persevered and insisted on completing the course, because in her words she "didn't want to be a quitter." I admired that so much. I learned a heck of a lot of Latin, and so did she. I was so proud of her when she completed the course, especially considering she didn't have to.
The picture below is typical for the way she approached assignments. She was to make a Latin word tree, which could have simply been a list of words with the same Latin roots. She wasn't happy with that. And we didn't have a sophisticated enough program at that time to do what she wanted to on the computer, so she drew hers by hand and had me scan it in and send it to her instructor. I am so glad I kept it. I was impressed with her efforts. Keep in mind this was a course SHE DIDN'T HAVE TO TAKE. She certainly didn't have to feel obligated to bust her butt in it. But that was just Estefany.
She's a tiny thing, sweet and funny, and when she turned 18 she still looked like a 12-year-old. Today she's 23 and her son is in kindergarten, and she is married (but not to her loser baby-daddy, thank goodness).
It made my day to get her phone call out of the blue. I got her address, and I plan to keep in touch with her.
It's kids like Estefany who make it all worthwhile.