Do the Right Thing for Kids is pub­lish­ing sto­ries like the fol­low­ing in order to pro­vide under­stand­ing of what is hap­pen­ing and not hap­pen­ing in the Kansas City School District class­rooms and why edu­ca­tion­al achieve­ment is not improv­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly. This is the sec­ond in a series of sto­ries writ­ten by peo­ple who are in the school observ­ing what is hap­pen­ing on a reg­u­lar basis. Actual names of writ­ers, stu­dents and staff mem­bers have been changed.

Thomas came late in the year to first grade not know­ing his ABC’s or num­bers. His teacher was not sure he had been to kinder­garten and encour­aged him to do any­thing he could. He tried but was lost in the class­room. She rec­om­mend­ed hav­ing him test­ed, but it was a long process and didn’t hap­pen. He was passed on to sec­ond grade.

The sec­ond grade teacher resigned dur­ing the year, and there were sev­er­al sub­sti­tutes. Thomas was lost again; he prob­a­bly knew 15 sight words. The same was true in third grade. He had a per­ma­nent sub­sti­tute who did absolute­ly noth­ing. Thomas played games and became a lit­tle bel­liger­ent. It was tru­ly a lost year. The kinder­garten teacher would ask him to come to her room because she knew noth­ing was hap­pen­ing in his room.

In fourth grade, Thomas had a few behav­ior prob­lems. We real­ly worked on his sight words, and he made some progress, up to 60 or so. He would say he did not do big words: from, where, some­thing, etc.

Thomas had excel­lent recall. I remem­ber read­ing the book Corduroy to him. The next week he remem­bered every detail of the book and called the night watch­man “the big dude with the flash­light.”

Over the sum­mer, he would regress, and we would start all over. Each year he should have been test­ed, but it nev­er hap­pened until his fifth grade teacher per­sist­ed. The test­ing was incon­clu­sive, some dyslex­ia. Concentration con­tin­ued to be a prob­lem.

It was that year that I dis­cov­ered he was real­ly hun­gry at school. We met before lunch, and he could not pay atten­tion. Dinner the night before was Spaghetti O’s, and he had no break­fast. I began to bring snacks of grapes, apples, wrapped cheese crack­ers, and a lit­tle can­dy. He was very appre­cia­tive.

Thomas’s home life was dif­fi­cult. He lived with his grand­moth­er who cared for a spe­cial needs per­son dur­ing the day. His moth­er was in and out as was an aun­tie with sev­er­al small chil­dren. Sometimes they had elec­tric­i­ty and some­times not. He was always late for school so he missed the pro­vid­ed break­fast. He slept with his grand­moth­er, her head at one end of the bed and his at the oth­er. When it was time for him to wake up, she nudged him with her foot. If Grandmother didn’t wake up in time, he was late for school. I asked the teacher if I could give him an alarm clock so he could be in charge of get­ting to school on time, and she agreed. Thomas and I worked on telling time and made a chart so he would know when to set the clock to get up in the morn­ing and when to leave for school. This worked for a while, and then he was late again. It seems he took a bath mak­ing him off-sched­ule. We revised the chart for the days he took a bath. Then he was late again. It seems some­one took the bat­ter­ies from the clock to use in the tele­vi­sion remote con­trol.

I wish Thomas could have been test­ed, retained ear­ly on and giv­en spe­cial instruc­tion to help him focus and learn. The two years of sub­sti­tutes real­ly derailed him. He just did not fit into any class­room. He was small for his age and def­i­nite­ly well below grade lev­el. I thought the teach­ers did the best they could except for the sub­sti­tutes. That was cer­tain­ly some­thing the dis­trict could have changed. I looked sev­er­al times to see if there was an adver­tise­ment for a per­ma­nent teacher, and there was not. Thomas was passed on from grade to grade, falling fur­ther and fur­ther behind.

Yes, the school dis­trict and his fam­i­ly failed Thomas, but so did the com­mu­ni­ty for allow­ing a school dis­trict to pass stu­dents through its sys­tem with­out every­thing they need to grow aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, some­times as basic as per­ma­nent teach­ers. I hope Thomas can make it in the world, but with­out being able to read, it will be dif­fi­cult.

Read the first post in this series, about Daniel

Read the sec­ond post in this series, about Sophia

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