Miguel,* a 12th grader, has the peacock of backpacks, a thing of color that is wildly beautiful and proud.
Miguel himself is like a peacock, colorful, dynamic, a born leader. He arrived in 2012 from Dominican Republic halfway through 9th grade and at that time, used his leadership to lead himself and group of other boys into trouble.
Between 9th and 10th grade, though, he suddenly matured. He started to study, passing the state Algebra exam in 10th grade.**
However, in the 11th grade, he stopped attending school, and started working full-time in a restaurant. We tried hard to get him to return, with little success.
This year, he suddenly came back with a sense of urgency.
Besides sporting a new pair of glasses and the backpack, he has been doing extra work during lunch, running around with a borrowed school laptop, and enlisting his friends to support him in studying. Inspired by his shift, we assigned him to mentor a struggling 10th grade student. Miguel told the student, “Little brother, the streets can kill you. The only thing you’ll have in the end is your education.”
Miguel can also be over-the-top, like bursting into a staff meeting to complain about the noise from a custodian’s drill, or arguing about anything after being told “no.” He also comes late, or on some days, not at all. But the improvement is nonetheless impressive, and on his first report card, he had passed all of his classes.
When my assistant principal, Shira, and I, first saw Miguel’s backpack, we looked at each other and said, “Featured backpack.” At our school, we do lessons called “Featured student,” in which we tell the true story of how someone learned or overcame a challenge. For example, “Jessica found the perfect resource for her history project, after being frustrated with her textbook. Today, we’re going to hear her story and be inspired by her example.” Stories stick in people’s minds. Shira and I thought the backpack would make a great featured lesson, so we’re going to feature it at an upcoming assembly or encourage one of Miguel’s teachers to do it.
I’m not sure what the outcome will be with Miguel. We often see students beat the odds and succeed. Other times, they drift away despite our best intentions. I’ll be following the story of Miguel, and while I have my preference of seeing him succeed in every way, I’m also clear that experiencing these bright moments are a privilege in themselves.
* Not his real name.
** Miguel also took part in our summer school after between his 9th and 10th grade years, in which we have student tutors who were successful in a subject tutor students who struggled. It is the essence of peer learning and student responsibility, and will be featured in an upcoming post on this blog. Miguel was tutored by an exceptional student named Stacy Diaz, who graduated in June 2015, served as class president her senior year, and took tremendous responsibility for supporting her classmates in learning.
Photo credit: Julie Nariman