At the Crossroads of “Promise” and “Risk”
by Bronwyn Harris, teacher and author
I taught third grade in the Oakland Unified School District for eight years. I was passionate about my work, and dearly loved the children in my classes. Each one of them had so much promise.
However, I was teaching in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Oakland, a neighborhood that the police called “The Killing Zone.” What I discovered is that nearly every one of those promising students was also very much at risk.
I knew that Jorge was a special kid from the moment I met him. Introspective and intelligent, he was the “adult” in his family from a very young age. His mother was young when he was born and already had a substance abuse problem, something that he tried his best to come to terms with while continuing to love her.
Along with his self-awareness came Jorge’s pleas for help. He asked for help in every way he knew how: directly, with philosophical questions, by acting out, and more. The school just didn’t have any resources for him.
Today, Jorge is in prison. This was totally preventable with the right support.
Jorge was a very intelligent child but, as with many kids at my school, he was drastically behind academically for a variety of reasons. He had so much chaos at home that he wasn’t able to focus on homework or studying, and his internal struggles came with him to school. His parents had their own struggles, and his grandmother was illiterate. He just didn’t have any support. With academic tutoring, counseling, and a community to care about him and miss him when he didn’t show up, Jorge wouldn’t have joined a gang and he wouldn’t now be a felon.
When we volunteer, when we tutor, when we mentor, we support children at the crossroads of “promise” and “risk”, surrounding them with a caring community during critical periods in their lives. In doing so, we enable children like Jorge to reclaim and realize their potential.
Bronwyn Harris is the author of Literally Unbelievable: Stories from an East Oakland Classroom. The stories in her book come from her own experience as a teacher. To learn more about Bronwyn’s book and to read her blog, visit www.bronwynharrisauthor.com.