We all have our recollections of late July. For me, I vividly remember the hard decision between a Smurfs or Dukes of Hazard lunch box, and don’t get me started on the inner turmoil over which Trapper Keeper to put into the buggy. Filling a new Jansport with Garfield folders, gel pens, and those newfangled mechanical pencils was a highlight to the ending of a long summer away from a place I loved … school.
I remember shopping for new clothes and trying to convince mom that I desperately needed a new pair of Tretorns or a particular rugby shirt at The Gap. I’m ashamed to admit, but I pouted a little when Lee jeans hung in my closet and not the Levis I wanted, and I’m still a bit bitter that I never owned a Members Only jacket.
But I healed and moved on. I made it out of middle and high school alive and fairly intact. Now as an adult, I look back at my grade school years and feel blessed nothing major happened that scarred me for life. Don’t get me wrong. Many things happened that made me who I am today, but I had things relatively easy.
That was the late ’80s and early ’90s, when life seemed much simpler. Now, as a 21st century public school teacher, I am face to face with watching kids trying to grow up in a much more challenging world. The pressure kids face these days is enormous, and no amount of news or social media or reality television can adequately portray what occurs in the hearts and minds of our youth today. Clothing and shoes and cars and gadgets and image dominate their lives. The battle to keep up with the Joneses is relentless.
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I teach at a Title One school, which means majority of our students come from low income families. We see our fair share of challenges, of course, and Lord knows, our kids don’t have full backpacks and fancy gel pens. But I think the struggles my students face may be a little different from the ones students who attend more affluent schools face.
Perhaps faux pas in some circles, coming from little is the tie that binds our students together. Since finding a common thread is a lifeline during the difficult adolescent years, having less in the bank seems automatically to place our students on common ground. Regardless of other kinds of challenges, keeping up with the Joneses is not the focal point. The massive chasm between the haves and the have-nots doesn’t exist in a Title One school as it does in many others.
That chasm certainly can gobble up a kid. I jest about Lee vs. Levis, but in our public classrooms today, the difference is massive. As an educator, I worry about those quiet, hidden kids attending schools without the unfortunate labels and the reputations that come with them. Empty bellies, empty backpacks, and empty pockets are frightful thoughts for kids surrounded by affluence. They slink down in their desks unnoticed by others, but feel the heat of a spotlight in their own minds. Sometimes that heat leaves a lasting mark.
Those are the kids we as educators and as a community must seek out and rescue from the talons of being a kid these days. Title One schools certainly need and welcome and appreciate assistance, but as we enter a new school year, let’s find those kids who feel misplaced in all our schools. Unto the least of these we can speak life and meet a tangible need. Just something to think about this final week of July.