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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