Friday, July 28, 2006

Two years is enough

Last night was closing dinner for our TFA orientation (why it was the night before the actual end of orientation I don't know). It was all good and well, good food and all of us happy and not in "professional dress." I particularly liked our speakers. We had a recent high school graduate and her principal speak to us. The girl, Corina I think, was very cool and she told us about migrating from El Salvador and having to repeat Kindergarten. She was told this would be enough for her to catch up to her peers. Until the end of 7th grade she thought she had caught up because she always got good grades and never had problems with being so quiet in school. When she was in 7th grade she interviewed for a KIPP School (a TFA product that amazes me with how successful they are) and they told her she tested so far behind that she would have to repeat the 7th grade to attend KIPP. At this point she talked about how she decided not to go to KIPP and how when she was discussing it with the principal she told him she didn't want to graduate high school as a 20-year-old. This is a girl who was motivated enough to stay out of trouble and stay in school and who was told what she was doing was good enough for the world and she was lied to. Instead, she's told to truly compete at a level with her peers she's going to have to stay in high school until she's 20 and work even harder than others at that. Is it any wonder that so many children simply fall by the wayside in the public education system? If they're even told at all how much work will be required of them to bridge the gap, do most of them have a system or teachers who are invested enough in them to help them succeed? Corina ended up joining KIPP and spending two years there before she went to a private high school in Dallas. This fall she will be attending St. Louis University for their nursing program.

It's stories like these that make me confident I've made the right decision to join this movement. The biggest criticism I've received since getting my notice in April was that TFA only puts teachers in the classroom for two years and that simply isn't enough. I have previously deferred that by telling people I plan to stay longer than my committed two years, but I'm starting to see I should have just taken the argument head on. Two years is enough. One year is enough. One month, one week, one day is enough. Children like Corina are falling through the cracks in the American education system in a way that to me seems criminally negligible. In two years at KIPP the course of her life was changed, so how can you tell me that my two years at McReynolds won't matter? How can you tell me that my five weeks this summer with Juan, Lisa, John, Pablo and Francisco didn't do something for them? The fact that I showed up every day. The fact that I demanded heads off their desks, work done, heads held high when they spoke? I'm not saying walking in with a smile and a lot of idealistic energy is the solution to all the worlds problems, but damn it what else is being done? At least 155 people here in Houston and countless others across this country are trying. Two years is enough because every second that someone isn't fighting for these kids is so much worse for them and their futures. They deserve so much more than that and two years is one place we can start.

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