That’s my butterfly

class drawings“That’s my butterfly!”  

Marcus pointed to a butterfly drawing, part of an elaborate book project displayed in the 9th grade hallway.

Marcus is a 9th grader with a semi-permanent frown who had recently been suspended for fighting.  He’s originally from Honduras, has lived in New York for two years, and is self-conscious about his English– too self-conscious to notice that his English is far better than most of his classmates.*  He gives the impression, “I’m a loner– don’t mess with me.”    

Yet today, his first day back from suspension, he pointed proudly pointed to his butterfly.  Gone was the tough-guy act, for a second.  

I hear a lot about the Marcuses of our school– the conflicts, the meltdowns, the meetings with parents, the interventions to help them do better, the consequences when they cross the line.  I was touched by a recent meeting with Marcus’s older brother, an articulate young man who told us to call him if there were any problems.

I had forgotten that our school is also a place where Marcuses can create butterflies.    

I had forgotten that last year, we had said, “Let’s give all of our 9th graders an art class so they can express themselves.”  I had forgotten that our art teacher Ms. Joo had organized a collaboration with the Morgan Library where our 9th graders had touched gold-leaf, and gazed at manuscripts from the Middle Ages, which led to the class book project.

All of these things were part of Marcus’s life, and we had planned them before we even knew Marcus.

I imagined the point in Marcus’s day where he carefully sketched out his butterfly, meditatively coloring it with soft green, light pink, bright blue.  At that moment, he was fully absorbed in creating, and he was doing brilliantly.  

*High School of Language and Innovation is a school for newcomer English Language Learners.  Many of the 9th grade students are just beginning to learn English.

All the names of students have been changed.

Photo credit: Julie Nariman 

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