A Matter of Safety
“You know that student you asked me about this morning?” Ms. J said, as she stuck her head through my door after the last bell Thursday. “Her family has experienced a terrible tragedy. Her father was killed.”
“Oh, that’s horrible!” I said. “Killed. As in murdered?”
“Yes,” Ms. J said.
I couldn’t imagine who would do such a thing, but Ms. J had no more information. The only thing I knew for certain was that 12-year-old N-Girl had been plunged into grief and that somehow she would have to come to terms with her father’s sudden and unexpected death.
Late this afternoon, I learned from the school counselor that an arrest had been made: N-Girl’s older (by one year) brother had been charged with his father’s murder.
I teach in a school in a low-income area. Alcoholism, drug abuse and gang activity are rampant. Many of my students know the painful facts about domestic violence—not by reading statistics, but by watching their drunken father beat their mother and then turn on his children. Murder is not uncommon. Last year one of my students was both relieved and horrified when the body of her older sister, who had been missing for two years, was finally discovered. The sister was a homicide victim.
I think I now understand why so many of my students have signed up for summer school, even though they are not failing and are in no danger of being retained. They may not do well in school, they may even profess to dislike school, but they know they can count on their teachers to provide a consistent daily routine in contrast to the chaos of their unpredictable home lives. For these kids, school is the safest place in the community—and they want as much of it as they can get.
The academic year ends Tuesday, and I’m sure N-Girl won’t be with us for the last-day-of school festivities. But I won’t be surprised if she shows up for summer school the day after Memorial Day.
It’s a matter of safety.