My tour of Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School began in the roomy entrance hall. The campus belies the South Dallas neighborhood where it resides — a beautiful shiny building with spotless floors and amazing student-painted murals, sitting in the midst of homes that have seen better days.
The first period bell had rung and students were in their classrooms, so it was relatively quiet as Principal Sharron Jackson dove into the school’s history.
Barely 30 seconds after she started, a boy pounded on the front doors asking to be let in. Principal Jackson opened the door.
“School started 20 minutes ago. Where you been?” her stern voice demanded.
Respectfully and without hesitating, he replied, “My mom didn’t come home last night, so I had to walk.”
Let that sink in: “My mom didn’t come home last night.”
I’ve been late to carpool pick-up on multiple occasions. Twice I’ve forgotten to pick up a friend’s child I was in charge of, and once I forgot to retrieve my daughter after an evening playdate. Only when I saw the mother’s phone number on my caller ID at 11 p.m., did I remember. (And by remember, I mean I didn’t.)
Not surprisingly, I have a reputation of not remembering. But I’ve never forgotten to come home.
Jackson, in her army fatigues and combat boots (being a middle school principal in a tough neighborhood, she dresses to mean business), softened just a bit.
“OK, go to the office, get your tardy pass and go to class.”
As the boy walked away, she turned to me.
“That’s pretty much the story of a lot of my babies,” she said.
I want to believe that mothers come home, but know not all do. I want to believe that all parents read to their kids, but know most don’t. I want to believe that children eat when they’re hungry, but know many can’t.
Coming from Lakewood or Mockingbird Elementary schools, where 93 percent and 81 percent of our students, respectively, don’t face the challenges of poverty, it’s difficult to comprehend that the opposite is true across Dallas ISD — nearly 90 percent of our kids are considered “low socioeconomic status,” according to federal poverty standards. When you look at the high schools into which our East Dallas students feed (Woodrow, Bryan Adams and Conrad), 73 percent of our students are low income, a high number for sure, but well below the district average. But go across North Central Expressway to visit North Dallas High School, where East Dallas’ Cesar Chavez and Zaragoza elementary students wind up, and you’ll find the highest homeless student population in the district with 92 percent of students categorized as low income.
For many throughout our district, the only meals our kids eat are the free breakfasts and lunches the district provides. (“Peace Pantry” programs at Woodrow, J.L. Long, and our elementary schools are a gift and a necessity.) Many students have love and joy in their homes but not a computer to do homework. They may have parents who don’t speak English fluently and therefore feel (incorrectly) that they can’t read to their kids or participate in their learning. A vast number of parents work multiple jobs so volunteering at school is not a realistic possibility.
That’s pretty much the story of a lot of our babies.
And lest we think otherwise, they are our babies — just like the way we “adopt” our kids’ best friends and how we keep an eye out for the children in our neighborhood.
I want to hold and love them. I want to feed them and read to them and give them every advantage I had growing up and that my children enjoy today, living in a home where all needs and most wants are met.
So, what if we could give all of our students some of those advantages? If we are among the privileged who have comforts, why not, in addition to volunteering on our own children’s campuses, help at a school where our kids don’t attend? Why not sign up to be a Reading Partners tutor at Mount Auburn Elementary or Mata Montessori? Or a Book Buddies tutor at Lipscomb, Geneva Heights, Casa View or Sanger elementary? Or work alongside a principal to start an afterschool chess, robotics or dads club? Why not be a community member on a site-based decision-making committee or dig in with an Out Teach (formerly REAL School) garden?
Dallas ISD has umpteen opportunities to lend your time across the district. Complete a volunteer application at dallasisd.voly.org, where you can also sift through options to find something that supports our babies and feeds your soul.
Mita Havlick is a neighborhood activist. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.
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