Mentor's Lament

Even tough, effective teachers like Angela Kirkendall struggle to shield inner-city kids from the lure of the streets

Although Kirkendall has a firm grip on her students in school, she says she's well aware that she can do little about what happens outside of it. She says that a few successful former students who come back to tell them they have landed jobs at Intel or AlliedSignal keep her from feeling that all of her work is going to waste. It's long become apparent, she says, that success in her class does not translate into success later on, even for her brightest students.

There's Juanita Olguin, for example. Kirkendall and other staffers at Rose Linda speak of Juanita as being something of a prodigy--a brilliant girl who could not possibly stumble. But Kirkendall says that in this neighborhood, she's learned that even such a successful young girl may not make it.

"You look at Juanita, and see how she functions in school, and you'd think she would make it," Kirkendall says. "But I don't know. I just don't know."

Only hours of school remain in the school year, but some unruly fifth graders couldn't contain themselves, getting in trouble for crawling under tables and yelling. They file into Kirkendall's classroom for disciplining, their heads hanging low.

Kirkendall and Stevenson shake their heads.
"The last day of school? The last day of school, and you're misbehaving?" Kirkendall asks.

Kirkendall and Stevenson both recognize them as fifth graders, and the teachers put on a good show for the kids, who already seem terrified to be in their presence.

"You better get this out of your system now before you come to our classrooms next year," Kirkendall says with a tone that implies untold horrors await the delinquents.

"Yes, Lord, I'm going to pray for you, light some candles," Stevenson chimes in.

The fifth graders go to the room's corners and face the wall as Kirkendall and Stevenson crank up their act.

Kirkendall: "I hope that sun bakes it out of your brain this summer."
Stevenson: "Not rare, but medium well-done."
Kirkendall: "Oh, I don't want them burnt. I want some brain left."

They ask the boys about their plans for summer school. One of them says he's not coming, he got good grades. But then he admits that he got a five--failed reading.

Kirkendall: "We'll be waiting for you next year."
Stevenson: "Yes, Lord. You won't be getting a five in reading in my class."
Later the students file out to go back to their own classroom.

Kirkendall lowers an icy glare at them. "Stay out of trouble the rest of the day. You come back in here and I'll body slam you," she says.

Her own students get a much different final admonition. At the end of the day, Miguel and Jose and Juanita Olguin and David Machado and the rest prepare their backpacks for the last time.

"I hope that next year none of you have to visit me. I think you have been taught well. Make me proud, make Ms. Stevenson proud. I'll still be here for detention, and I'll know who's getting in trouble. I think that's everything."

She pauses, a satisfied smile on her face.
"I'm getting ready to unleash you onto the world. Okay, you may go."
Jesse Ortiz comes over to give her a hug, and that starts a trend.

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