I’ll give you my right arm

wp-1486921143207.jpgAwa sobbed in our office.  “Can’t you just let me try?” she pleaded.

Awa, an 11th grader who came from Senegal in 9th grade, was begging to take the New York State English Regents exam in January.  We told her she’d take it in June when she had completed the coursework for the exam.  She left in tears.  

When I started our school in 2011,* I thought that the experience of taking a state exam was so valuable that it was worth letting a student try, even if they weren’t 100% prepared.   Continue reading

That’s my butterfly

20170110_201435.jpg“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.”     Continue reading

Hot chocolate on a Saturday

hot-chocolate“We just cancelled Saturday school,” said an assistant principal from another school as he walked to his car.  Sleet pecked us as we paused to talk in front of our shared Bronx campus.  “Only two kids showed up, and most of the teachers had to call out because of the roads.” 

So to cancel or not to cancel?  As a principal, I normally don’t have this power, and the mayor of New York City decides whether or not to cancel school.  However, this was Saturday school, which we start running in December to give students extra tutoring before January exams, and it was my call.   Continue reading

Can’t you just let him stay?

185203592_32bb941599_zUsman is an adorable 10th grader originally from Pakistan, smaller than the other kids.  He has huge eyes, straight bangs, and a lopsided smile, and whenever he sees me, he waves and says, “Hi Principal!”  He also has an older brother, Saad, in 11th grade who now barely attends school, and is inches away from becoming a Code 39.

A “Code 39” is the code schools use for a dropout.  Back in the first two years of our school’s existence, I remember when Code 39 wasn’t a part of my vocabulary.  Now, we have more Code 39s than we’d like.  We’ve started to watch for early signs of Code 39s, as in the case of Usman at our after-school Thanksgiving Potluck.   Continue reading

Miss, I’m in love

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“Oh, miss, I’m in love.  I fell in love yesterday,” said Mariana.

“Yesterday was the best day of my life,” added Besa.

The two girls were sauntering to their science class.  Mariana is an 11th grader who arrived from Dominican Republic three years ago, while Besa arrived  from Albania last September.  In speaking about their experience the day before, they transformed from normal teenagers trying to look bored, to human beings inspired about life. Continue reading

If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class

20161107_104459.jpg“If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class.”

With that, the crowd erupted and I witnessed the power of political temptation in our student government elections. David, a quiet student from Guinea, was delivering his speech to be an Eleventh Grade Senator.

Why did David’s promise get such a big reaction? Because the administration collects students’ phones to minimize distraction.*

Continue reading