He is straight out of the teaching textbook. Leo looks around the room until I ask him by name to look at me while I address the class. We read a book together in the mornings before school starts. He is willing to listen and fumble with the words that are so new to him. Born on Roatán Island, he is fluent in spoken English, but struggles to read and write in his native tongue. I love this kid. He is rock solid character. At times he looks so defeated sitting there in his classroom, surrounded by much younger and far more literate classmates. When he is serious he looks sad, this must be why he is the clown. He speaks with a deep, frog-like voice, already becoming a man.
Exasperated, he tries hard to read the context clues. Although every other word is frightfully foreign and demanding, he garners much success. He gets right to work, calling me over, asking me how to spell this or that. He is writing about his mom in a 3-paragraph, basic composition assignment for his 4th grade English class. Leo’s mastery of wit or conversation and charm do him little good as he attempts to write his paragraphs. Some say he is dyslexic. Or his mind has been forgotten by the society that gave birth to him. He is at a loss to define any sort of details about his mom’s childhood beyond the city where she was born. He says that, although he lives with her, he knows little about her life. It is difficult to know if the communication breakdown is between Leo and his mom or his thoughts and his written word.
Like Leo, Tania often finds herself bound by her life circumstances, making obscure any vision of potential intellectual triumphs. In class, she becomes a stone with eyelashes wet as I, yet another in a long list of disappointed adults, insist that she can do a massive amount of advanced math problems, an impossibility. She doesn’t even know how to protest this colossal assignment, so she bows her face and goes somewhere in her mind to find enough pride in herself to sit there, still.
They have so many lessons to teach us, the charming, witty sweethearts forgotten in a system that draws the line every day of their lives. School, for kids left behind, is some form of cruel punishment. It is here that they are exposed. These kids who show up day after day, they are soldiers. They risk mockery and shame, confusion and blame.
The world does not tenderly consider the gap in which these students must trounce. They grow, they are willing. They tire and test. There is a resting place for these warriors. There is no need to fail. We are there, we are here. The opportunities abound, if we help them to see. Easy for me to say, the examples of academic and social challenge and triumph were countless in my youth. Each way I turned, there was success. There might have been failures, but with those came character growth. We laud our forgotten sweethearts, lacking the societal safety nets many take for granted, as they scale the tightrope of learning