By Jeanie Greenidge, AVID Teacher and Coordinator, O’Banion Middle School
I didn’t get it. David missed middle school at least one day every week. He was an engaged and vibrant young AVID learner, when he was in class. Mind you, David never missed a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday. However, Thursday or Friday was a crapshoot. These absences were always excused. It was always, “Ms. G., I was sick,” or “I had to go to the doctor.” I saw the notes. I spoke to his Mom. She would just shrug. Meanwhile, David missed a lot of school.
“David!” I would whisper to him when we were talking privately, “I’m worried about you. You miss too much school. The more you miss the more behind you are getting. I know they are excused, but this cannot happen if you hope to get to college. Will you help me with this?”
“Misssss,” (the ‘s’ would go on forever), “I know but I cannot help it.”
I refused to leave it alone. “We have to find a way to do better on this attendance, David ... we have to.”
“I know ... I know.” He would brush me off. He would let it go, but for me, it was like a splinter - below the surface forgotten, but once a week or so when he was absent, and it would hurt me.
AVID kindles advocacy. It provokes teachers to advocate on behalf of their AVID students and, over time, AVID gives students the confidence to advocate for themselves. When things are running right in AVID, our class becomes a family. We are working on rigorous activities, challenging ourselves academically, hurdling obstacles - falling and rising up again. The shared struggle brings us all closer.
I was confident that we were all in this together. The AVID curriculum was empowering my AVID students. They were really beginning to see themselves as scholars. Their determination was beginning to pay off. The AVID class (Room 28) was becoming the place where you could safely discuss your academic ambitions; where you could talk about school and college and homework and tests and strategies. Academic conversations were not just accepted, they were an anticipated part of our AVID culture. Room 28 became the place where you could share your college hopes and dreams. The AVID curriculum was changing our ordinary AVID students and making them extraordinary. Even David was missing school less often.
Months passed and the semester was almost over. Finally, one Monday morning, I visited David at his first class of the day. This had become my ritual. I asked his teacher if I could speak with him out in the hall.
Once in the hallway, I asked, “Where were you on Friday, David? You missed another binder check.”
“I couldn’t come, Ms. G. I am sorry.”
“Well, we missed you, David. That’s all. We need you to be there.”
“I know. I know.” He answered quickly, obviously angry with me for making him feel bad. “My uniform pants...I just...”
This was unusual. Normally, my nagging was something David would ignore but here, I could see he was choked up. He was blinking back tears ferociously by this time.
“Hey...David?” I put my arm across his back. Usually smiley-and-happy-go-lucky David was standing beside me in tears.
“I’m sorry what is it? What is it about your pants?”
“You can’t expect me to come to school in dirty clothes! I can’t...” David’s voice trailed off.
“What do you mean? David, if your school pants are dirty, can’t you just wash them?” This next statement is the one I regret the most.
“You can’t expect your mom to do your laundry for you, David...”
“Ms. G. stop!” David cut me off. “I know how to wash my own clothes. I’ve done my own laundry since third grade, for your information. I can’t come to school if my uniform pants are not clean. I can’t. We don’t go to the lavanderia until Saturday.”
Thoughts in my head began to settle into place. The clouds were lifting and I was beginning to understand. I had grown up in a house where we had a washer and dryer just down the stairs. A washer wherein, (despite my father’s complaints), we could use an entire wash cycle for just one shirt, or one pair of pants. Obviously, David and his family did not share this decadent privilege.
“David. Sorry, but I don’t really understand. Have you been missing school because your uniform school pants have not been clean? Is that what is keeping you at home?”
David began to move his head affirmatively, inhaling sharply with each nod; as if his breaths were in three parts instead of the usual inhale exhale cycle. I handed him a Kleenex as I patted his back.
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” He repeated it three times, punctuating each part of his breath.
“What size?” I whispered.
“What, Miss?” He asked me.
“What size are your pants?” I asked David.
“14, Miss. I wear a 14, but...”
“David.” I interrupted him. “Please. I am going to get you extra uniform pants for school. If you have clean pants, will you stop missing school?” I expected to have to bargain with David, but he did not fight me.
“Yes, Miss. I need extra pants, so that I come all week.” He sighed and wiped his eyes. The next day, I brought some size 14 khaki Dickies that I picked up after school on the day of our conversation. I have made sure ever since that I have extra pants and uniform shirts for anyone who might need them.
Two weeks ago (and six years later), David asked me to attend his high school graduation. We never spoke about the pants again after I discretely handed him the shopping bag containing the pair of pants. He had come back to middle school to bring me a graduation ticket. Then, he told me that he had been accepted into the nursing program at Texas Woman’s University to which he credits his six years in AVID.
I give the AVID program credit too, for the confidence it kindles in its students. I believe learning to take Cornel notes, organizing your binder, and challenging yourself with the AVID tutorial process are truly key essential academic skills. Perhaps just as significant though is the confidence that the steady use of these skills engenders. The academic behaviors in AVID inevitably ignite a higher self-assurance.
With rigor and support, AVID turns ordinary students into college-bound scholars. AVID makes its students better students. Surprisingly, it makes its teachers better teachers, too. It lets us all know that we truly are all in this together. Thanks, David, for teaching this teacher.