Tag Archives: inner city school

People and their money

There is a small piece in today’s newspaper about a paper cup allegedly used by Elvis Presley six decades ago in Oklahoma that is up for auction, and bids have surpassed $1,200. The things people will spend their money on.

Today’s paper also reports a banquet at the current president’s Florida estate that will cost $100,000 per couple to attend. I would almost like to see who these foolish people are, but not enough to check into it. I could do so much with $100,000, and it wouldn’t be for this event.

At the beginning of the school year I purchased packages of socks and underwear for Columbia to have on hand for kids who had accidents. They could quickly change and go back to class rather than wait for a parent to bring a change of clothing, many of whom never arrive. I also brought in many pairs of pants for the same reason.

Yesterday I checked with the home liaison about the supply of these provisions and learned that the girl’s underwear and pants were all gone. Could I bring some more? I stopped at Target on the way home and found a variety of sizes of underwear in the clearance section. No luck with pants that were really inexpensive for my retired teacher’s budget, so next week I will go to Salvation Army and look for more. I can get a señior discount on Tuesdays.

So, that $1,200 for a cup once used by Elvis? I’d use it to buy clothing and supplies for kids. That $100,000 for a ticket to supp with the current president? I’d use it to update the school library’s books and make sure every teacher had books in their classroom.


Essays, flowers, stickers

Tuesday is the day I try to devote my visit to Columbia to the older kids, but today I did go by the first grade wing and dropped off flowers in each room. After being told by the school psychologist that most of the students in the school are suffering from PTSD, I did some research. Coloring helps. So do flowers. I hand out stacks of coloring pages each week at lunch time. So today I decided to put live flowers in each first grade classroom.

My next stop was the 6th grade classroom where I am helping the students write essays about friends. I had collected, read, and commented on their first draft. It was time to hand them back and start the rewrite process. The essays are really good and I can hardly wait to see the finished products.

I rushed from that 6th grade room to get to lunch with 3rd graders. We ate teriyaki beef:

After lunch I handed out about 50 coloring pages, a box of crayons, numerous pencils, and some erasers. Those who ate their veggies got stickers. Lots of them did and made sure I was aware of it.

On my way out, I found three students loitering in a hallway. Took me awhile to sort them out to where they belonged. I walked one little guy to his class only to hear from his teacher that he had been sent to the office for bad behavior. The teacher had two conduct referrals written for a girl and a boy already in the office. I walked the girl to the office, connected with the other miscreant, and turned in the referrals to the vice principal.

After all that, the father of the previous escorted boy had shown up so I took him to the classroom to speak with his son and waited while he did so. As we returned to the office, I thanked the father for taking the time to come to school. I don’t know what he thought of me being there in my chaplain uniform. The police patch on my shirt often startles people.

Then I was ready to head home. Tomorrow I will be back to do my usual work with first graders. I will need to make more copies of the coloring pages. I used up my supply today.

Back into the fire

Nothing very blog-worthy has been going on around here. I spent days on the couch, getting bad meds out of my system and regaining my strength from the number done on my body by meds and shingles. The shingles being the least of the problems.

I was able to return to my school chaplaincy duties on Wednesday. A third grader who had only attended two days at Columbia before Easter break died of an asthma attack during the break. I conferred with teachers and other staff members. I kept an eye on the kids in his class, some of whom I know from last year, when they were second graders. Having been at the school for such a short amount of time, there hadn’t been any attachments made with the boy but the kids did know who he was. Just as I do with the kids whose parents have been murdered, I will keep in touch with the boy’s classmates, checking in with them on the days I’m there, providing a listening ear, hugs, and stickers.

All of the first grade teachers were out for training on Thursday and so had substitutes in their classrooms. The first class I read to, right after lunch, was not prepared for me to come in. They had materials scattered all over their desks so I began to work with them to clear their desks, knowing this was going to take longer than usual when the teacher has them ready for me. They refused to clear their desks. Perhaps their own power struggle.

“But if you don’t clear your desks, then I can’t read to you. Don’t you want to hear a story?”

Many of them bellowed back, “NO!”

I was shocked. This class is more difficult but they like the stories and are glad to see me. But not this day. I asked again, “do you want a story?”

Although there were some YESes, the loudest answers were NO. So, I picked up my bag and told them I would be back next week and went to the next class which was delighted to see me and hear a story. A bit squirrely, but that is to be expected when there is a substitute.

I figure we all have a bad day here and there, so I’ll get over it and hope the kids do too and we can return to normal next week. If there is any such thing as normal. Especially at an inner city school.

Mission building

Today I delivered a carload of supplies that my friends had collected for the fourth graders to build the California missions.

The school’s janitors were so kind and unloaded my car, delivered a cartful of supplies to the classroom and then unloaded them. Here is what it looked like BEFORE the students arrived:

Here is the same area AFTER the students got what they needed to get started:

I need to get green paint tomorrow and deliver before I go to work with the first graders. That is one thing I didn’t know the kids needed. Many got right to work today:


I was exhausted by the time I left at 3:00.

On a mission

Literally…California history is first studied in 4th grade. It’s a state requirement. If you should move to California as an adult, and you want to be a teacher in the state, you will be required to take a class on California history. We think it’s that important around here.

Part of the state’s history is the missions. All 21 of them. Every 4th grader in the state is to study about the mission system and either write a report after visiting a mission (what my daughter did), or make a model of the one of the 21 missions. Some schools are fortunate enough to have field trips to the missions. The closest one to Fresno is San Juan Bautista, about 2 hours away. The inner city schools, like where I am chaplain, don’t have that luxury. Their experience with the missions comes from books and model-making.

Models of the missions requires a long list of supplies. Supplies that most inner city 4th graders cannot acquire on their own. Their parents are unable to get the supplies due to time, transportation, money. There are no craft stores, or hardware stores, or even Targets in the poor side of town. My friends, the retired teachers, are banding together to provide the supplies to one of the 4th grade classes at Columbia where I am school chaplain.

I thought the teacher was going to cry when I first approached him with the idea. Then I showed up at his classroom to get a list of the supplies. He introduced me to the class and had me tell my story as to why I am at Columbia. Some of these students (32 4th graders crammed into a small portable classroom) are the ones I’ve seen in the office for misbehaving in class. I’d misbehave, too, to get out that cramped room where most of the work is rote and worksheet-based. Some of them come to my after school craft days (which I am doing later this afternoon). Those students had seen me before. Most, however, did not know me. When I finally told them that we were going to provide the supplies for their missions, they cheered.

Suddenly the classroom was frenetic. Students were pulling their mission books out of their desk, telling me the mission they were making. They started shouting lists of materials they needed. Students were turning to pictures of missions in their books and putting them in front of me. I got a piece of paper and started writing.

We made plans for me to return next week with the supplies and then we would make a plan for checkpoints and see what else might be needed. I told them about the group of retired school teachers who want to help them. They asked if we could come see their missions when they are finished. Sure we can! The excitement in the room was thick. As I walked out the door, with the promise to be back next week, they applauded.

No substitute #1

Twice now I have sat with boys who have gotten into trouble with the substitute teacher for their class. In both cases, the boy would tell me he didn’t like the substitute and the substitute was mean to him. In both cases, the substitute was male.

Although these boys aren’t first graders with whom I have been assigned to work, they are in the office, they are in trouble, and someone needs to take care of them until the overworked vice principal and/or principal can get to them. I don’t know the exact protocol for disciplining these troublemakers so I just sit and talk to them. It’s what I do best.

I ask questions: why are you here? what did the substitute say? what did you say? what should you have said? how can you fix this? In both cases the boys knew they were wrong and they had to apologize. I was able to return the second grader of a few weeks ago to the teacher and have him do that and go back to class. Yesterday, I had to leave the fourth grader in the office, working on a paper he pulled from his backpack, so that I could get to the lunch line with the first graders. But first I knocked on the principal’s door and explained the child’s situation. She was up to her eyebrows in reports that had to be completed but said she would talk with the fourth grader and that working on his paper was a good plan.

These boys, as is the case with most of the children in the school, are from fatherless homes. They have not bonded with men very well. Sometimes it’s their mom’s boyfriend who has mistreated them. Sometimes they just have no male role model and don’t know how to react to a stranger in their life except to be defensive. The boys have become comfortable with their classroom teacher. It’s a safe place to be each day. There is routine. Then a substitute teacher arrives. Someone they don’t know. Their equilibrium, which is shaky to begin with, really gets thrown off. They act out, testing the waters, to see just how far they can go. Just what they can get away with.

Do I have an answer to this problem? Not really. I explained to both of these boys, weeks apart, that they have to listen to and obey the substitute even though the routine and rules might be different from what they know. I explained how we have to work with people we may not like or agree with, but who have authority over us. The boys nod their head, they agree that they were wrong and that they need to apologize. But, and this is the big question, will they do differently when the next substitute teacher shows up?

Nothing much changes

Teachers get blamed for everything. If students don’t do well in school, it’s because the teacher isn’t interesting or caring or well prepared. The teacher didn’t try hard enough, didn’t call home enough, didn’t encourage enough. The lesson should be jazzed up, made better, worked more diligently.

Because I teach in an inner city school with all the inherent problems, I see so many students who come to school totally unprepared for and uninterested in school. Asking them to sit still, be quiet, work all period, organize their work, turn in their work, is daunting, but I do it everyday. The teacher is too demanding. The teacher doesn’t understand the situation from which the student comes. It’s ok if the student misses class to take care of smaller siblings, a sick parent, or to work a job to help with the bills. No one says no to a parent who wants to pull their child out of school for a week or a month to return to Mexico for a family visit. This is all part of the culture. Teachers need to be more compassionate.

Then the tests are given and the students are not prepared because they haven’t been in class. The scores are low, and again the teacher is blamed. If you had tried harder, worked harder, cared more, the students of color would have done better. The achievement gap would be diminishing.

I have worked harder, cared more, done more, and it’s not enough to please everyone. After 18 years in the inner city school, working with kids from severe poverty, I am discouraged and feel beaten down. When will it get better? I truly believe that we should be producing a better student, but it is not happening for every kid. Too many are being separated by the achievement gap. Poverty is only part of the equation; culture is also an issue. Someone needs to speak against parents taking their kids out of school for a myriad of familial reasons.

I wrote the above post almost seven years ago, when I first started this blog. Holiday season was upon us, just as it is coming up this year. Parents at the inner city high school were planning trips back to Mexico for the Christmas season. They would be taking their kids with them. Or, I had students who had younger siblings and there was no child care except for the older sibling. So, when their brother or sister was ill, they had to remain at home, missing school. Nothing much has changed in the past seven years except I’m no longer there.

wonder what this is all about?

Tonight, while checking the stats for this blog, I find two searches that were used to reach the site:

delaine zody yearbook advisor email 2
delaine zody yearbook advisor fresno hig

All I could think:  Now what?  Who isn’t happy with their book?  Who is trying to find me to complain?  Maybe, just maybe, someone wants to give me money for all the hard work I put into these past nine yearbooks.  Or, get my advice on how to make a yearbook work in an inner city school that has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation?  That one I don’t have an answer for.

Continuing My Education about Microfinance

For 21 years I have worked in an inner city school in the middle of California’s Central Valley, one of the poorest places in the United States.  My students come from very poor neighborhoods with little chance to see what is beyond their six blocks.  The program I helped build at Fresno High School, the Marketing Academy, showed students a way to start their own business, and through guest speakers and field trips, I showed them many possibilities.  These students have gone on to be successful in careers and many of them have started their own business.

Seeing this success made me want to continue to work with an organization that can help others be successful; so as I planned my third career, I took into account how microfinance was doing just that and where I might fit.  My research, starting with reading Muhammad Yunus’s book, “Banker to the Poor,” and leading to the Microfinance USA conferences, has given me many ideas of what I can do next as I leave the teaching job in Fresno and move to San Francisco.

Three years ago I signed up with idealist.org, an online organization “where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.”  It was from this site that I learned about the first Microfinance USA conference, held at Stanford University, last year.  The speakers and materials from the conference gave me so many ideas to further research this past year.

This year, when I received the notice for Microfinance USA 2010 and learned that it would be in San Francisco, I was doubly excited.  Not only would I get to learn more about this method of helping people get out of poverty through entrepreneurship, but I could do it in my favorite city, and new hometown, San Francisco.  I signed up immediately and was even able to get registered for the entrepreneurship tours offered at lunch time so that I can see some of the businesses that are being built with these small loans.  I am really excited to learn more about what real entrepreneurs are doing.

You can read the final copy of my blog post and what others have to say at the Microfinance USA 2010 website.

Tree lighting ceremony

Tree lighting ceremony

Originally uploaded by dkzody

My school sits at the beginning of a very historical road, Christmas Tree Lane, in a very old part of the city. The school was started in 1889 and has been at the current site since 1923. For the past 18 Christmas seasons we have  kicked off the holidays with a tree-lighting ceremony.

The school band has shrunk in size so that this year the band director got many of the alumni band members to come back and perform. The sound of holiday music floating down the front steps of the school put us in a festive mood.

Inside the auditorium the orchestra played traditional music and the choir sung. Folklorico dancers and a routine from the cheerleaders preceded Santa’s arrival. The students and faculty bring their small children to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they wish for Christmas. This year the principal joined the kids to ask for better test scores and more funding.

When everyone has taken their Santa photos, we all tramp outside, to the front of the school, where a large deodar cedar has been strung with lights. With Santa leading the count, we count down to 0 and the lights come on, making for a much brighter night. It’s not Rockefeller Center, but it’s pretty nice for our inner city high school.

Lights on, pictures taken, and candy canes dispersed, we all head our separate ways home, to begin the holiday season.