My Morning with a Franklin Met Student
This morning an 8th grade girl from Tulsa Public School's Met-Franklin alternative school came to shadow me at work. Since I don't have permission to use her name, I'll call her Grace. Grace is an attractive girl with long, dark curls and bleached side-swept bangs. Her bangs fall into her gorgeous brown eyes and sweep over maticulously groomed eyebrows. I wanted to ask her where she gets them done. I greeted Grace at the door, having very little information except that Grace wants to be a writer. She didn't look at me, but when I held out my hand she hesitated, then shook it. I wondered if she would talk to me, but I didn't wonder for long. I asked one question and she was off. Here's what I learned.
Grace was anxious to show me her notebook from school. I soon learned that at Met-Franklin, the students have individualized plans based on their dreams for the future. Grace's was based on being a writer. Her notebook was full of writing, writing projects, rubrics for presentations and she was proud of all of it. There were some awards from elementary school for being an exceptional student. They were wrinkled and I asked about that. She said that she had almost thrown them away. I wondered what had made her revisit those awards. What made her smooth them out and put them in the plastic sheets of her notebook? I think maybe it was new-found pride, self-acceptance and hope.
The first thing Grace wanted me to read was her autobiography. It was beautiful and beautifully written. In Grace's brief life, she has experienced violence in her home, violence and bullying at school -- directed at her, but sometimes she was the bully -- she has been told she's stupid, that she can't control her anger and that she will never be able to complete school. She told me that she's bi-polar and is on medication. What struck me about her autobiography was not the violence (although that was striking enough), but the acceptance and forgiveness and, above all, the soaring hope. The lines were like poetry. For a 15-year-old girl to have such wisdom was beyond my imagination.
Grace told me that in the school where she had been prior to Met-Franklin, there was continuous violence, including sexual violence. The teachers sounded somewhat powerless to stop it, but Grace also said that she didn't think it was handled well. "There's no reason for a teacher to grab a student by the neck of their shirt. Sometimes they didn't even break up the fights," she said. "It just makes kids get more angry. You can't tell kids not to bully when all they know from home is violence and drugs. They don't know what bullying is."
She said they throw the kids out of school, and then they come back and do the same thing. I asked Grace what schools like that should do about bullying. She said that they should get in small groups with the kids and talk to them. "They need to understand what bullying is," she said. "They need to have some skills about how to handle it and not bully. They don't know. No one ever taught them these things. All they know how to handle anything is with raised fists."
I asked Grace if there were enough counselors or other professionals to do this at her old school. She said no and it's getting worse because the class sizes are getting even bigger.
Grace told me that at Met-Franklin "it's like a family. We care about each other, but even there the classes are getting too big." I asked Grace what was "too big," and she said 15 kids. She thought 10 would be a good number. I asked her why, and she said so that the teachers could get to every single kid and help them succeed.
Grace said she used to get angry and have fights, but she's working to control that. She now knows that it won't help her. She even tries to get other kids to stop bullying and fighting. I could tell that Grace had developed some leadership skills.
Grace is a girl who loves to read. She told me about her favorite books, and I happened to have the next installment in my office, so I gave it to her. She said she can read a chapter book in a day. Grace wants to succeed in high school. She wants to go to college. The teachers and staff at Met-Franklin are giving her a safe, supportive community to nurture her dreams.
I wish I could take Grace to talk to our state legislature and other policy makers about funding public schools and providing money for real counselors and teacher aides and reading specialists and health specialists and teacher training. Money does make a difference in helping public schools create small class sizes so that good teachers can do their job and so that children have a positive learning environment. Money helps hire more help, more specialists, and it helps individual schools create a curriculum that works for their students. I have to think that there are so many students like Grace who will never get the chance that she has. What a waste of human potential.
Grace thinks she might want to go to Street School for high school. I didn't tell her that the state had cut all funding to Street School. I hope it survives, but to do so, it will have to go begging to foundations and other funding avenues every year.
I don't know what will happen to Grace, but I won't forget my morning with her.