Dispatch from an American Classroom: I Wasn't Prepared for Pregnant 12 Year-Olds
If you were to start on Independence Avenue from where it splits off from Pennsylvania Avenue NE at Third Street and head east, as you get to RFK Stadium you loop around the circle and then cross the Anacostia River on East Capitol Street. A few miles later on your left is an aging junior high school building that houses a non-profit charter Middle School and companion High School. I teach in the former.
Knowing several of the staff, and having visited the school previously, I thought I was prepared. I knew the population was very much at-risk. I had no idea.
I teach 7th grade Social Studies - Ancient World History. The students are all African-American, from Wards 7 & 8, the poorest parts of the District of Columbia. We are just several hundred yards inside the District from its boundary with Prince George's County Maryland. The students are supposed to wear uniform shirts, different by grade, which most of them do. I knew that many came from families that at best struggle, some from single parent households, some living with relatives other than their parents. Still I was not prepared. I did not expect a small 7th grade girl who walked into my room - she is due to give birth on January 23, when she will still be 12 years old.
I am told that she will be the 2nd 7th grader to give birth this year.
I was taken back to my first year of teaching at Eleanor Roosevelt HS in 1998. I had a young lady who was pregnant at 15, having gotten pregnant deliberately as a means of getting emancipated - she had an abusive father who would demand she get an abortion, so she showed up before a Catholic judge who emancipated her. I had another student who missed a lot of school taking care of her "little brother" - she was new to that school at age 17 so it took us a while to figure out that it was actually her son, apparently by her step-father. But we could not intervene without evidence, she turned 18, and then she dropped out.
But there is a world of difference between 12 and 17, and still a wide gulf between 12 and 15.
I have not seen all 65 students on my rolls in the two days so far. Some I have seen on only one day. Attendance for some is a real problems. From day to day some students can be focused then totally off the rails.
It is not that they are bad kids. Far from it. I have a couple who are very smart, some (mainly but not exclusively girls) who really want an education and who resent the class clowns who want to disrupt. Others sometimes ar focused and others get pulled into the silliness. Some of the smart ones don't want their academics to disqualify them from being accepted back in their neighborhoods.
But they are still kids.
We had a team meeting yesterday to talk about those children in academic jeopardy. There will be some home visits, although so far I have not been asked to go on those (and if I am, it will always be with one of the other team members, all of whom are African American women). For others ,talking with parents could be counter-productive: imagine the worst kind of discipline and perhaps you can figure out why. For them we will have them sit with a group of their teachers to try to reach them.