1st Saturday in Advent
Psalm 20:4, RSV
I teach in one of North America’s high-poverty areas. Every single student at my school is eligible for a free breakfast and free lunch. For many of our students, those two meals are the only nourishing food they receive during the day.
If some of these kids are lucky, there will be a bag or two of snack food at home to get them through the weekend. Otherwise, they’ll see their next meal when they get off the school bus Monday morning. With meals so haphazard, it’s no wonder that many of our students dread the two-week Christmas break.
Unemployment is chronically high in this area—around 15 percent. With jobs and money hard to come by, it’s difficult to plan for the future, and even more difficult to figure out what your heart’s desire really is. You don’t look to the future. You live from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Survival is the name of the game.
Survival means that some of our families—and even our students— turn to selling drugs, others to using them. Recently l learned that one of my students often has to hide the car keys from his drunken parents before he leaves for school every morning. With having to shoulder such an overwhelming responsibility at the tender age of 13 or 14, it’s not surprising that this particular student acts out frequently in my classroom.
It’s also not surprising that many of our students don’t do well in school. “They just don’t care,” the teacher across the hall complains to me. “On the district benchmark test, the average score was thirteen percent—thirteen percent!”
“If you were living in what seems to be a hopeless situation, would you care?” I ask.
“But they could graduate from high school, go on to college and get out of here,” he retorts.
“But this is home,” I reply. “Many generations of their families are here, and family bonds are strong.”
Where there is strength, there is hope. And where there is hope, plans and desires can sprout, take root and thrive.
I may not be able to raise my students’ test scores, but I can remind them that family, even a dysfunctional family, can be a source of strength; and I can show them how to plant tiny seeds of desire and nurture them until they grow into plans that, if followed, will reshape their lives and prepare them for a hope-filled future.
Who knows what tender plants will spring forth during this Advent season and in the seasons to come?