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

The things are not so easy

wp-1475332664738.jpgIn one of our English as a New Language classrooms,* students were given index cards with the task “Describe yourself in six words,” and then instructed to post the cards on a bulletin board.  The cards said so much: “I miss my friends in Vietnam,” “I want to be a doctor,” “I think more than I speak.”  One was written by Carlos, who came to this country last year from the Dominican Republic: “The things are not so easy.”   Continue reading

Bananas are 4011

2943134072_fbe538e43f_zWhen I was sixteen, I got a job as a cashier at the local IGA supermarket.  Every fruit had a code used for weighing it, and bananas were the first one I memorized: 4011.  I was proud that I knew things like this.  I liked being useful.

A few years ago I read a book called “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein, which said until about 100 years ago, adolescence didn’t exist.  People were children, who then became adults.  After you stopped being a child, you were an adult with responsibility, whether that was getting married and having your own child, working, apprenticing, hunting, joining the army, helping your family with a farm or business or household.  You went from being a child who learned how to be a useful older child, who then became a useful young adult.  Which has recently got me thinking about students who have part-time jobs and what they get from it: Continue reading

Big kids need recess too

Last year, our graduation rate was 68% in June, and increased to 73% in August. 

This year, our graduation rate is 60% in June, eight points below last year.

I confess, I would love to have handed diplomas to every student.  For a week or so, I’ve felt as though the dog ate my optimism.  I would like it back,  please.

Yet it’s hard to stay uninspired for long when I come into contact with students, or listen to just about anyone.  The other day, an 11th grade student from another high school in the Bronx called me on my cell phone to ask if she could take geometry in my school over the summer.  I didn’t know her and don’t know how she got my number  but was inspired by her research, resourcefulness, and chutzpah. Continue reading

Clearing the one armed bandits

wp-1458042250935.jpgThree times a year, our classrooms transform: round tables are replaced with rows of tablet-armed desks during the state testing weeks of January, June, and August.   We call these desks one-armed bandits.

The change from tables to desks is a physically dramatic event.  The classroom turns from an expansive, wide space with 6-7 round tables, to a tightly–packed, orderly box filled with metal and laminate desks.  Continue reading