When school becomes a sanctuary

My brother Arch and I often sit around and discuss our former students. With the beginning of the school year, we were at it again. He and I taught exactly the same things, English and history. The mix is, we did it 20 years apart from one another. I am seven years older than he is and he spent 20 years in the army. Then he went back to college and got a teaching degree. He started the year I retired, 13 years ago. 

He is like me and misses the new school year. However, when you write about students, it is mostly of the funny things they believe or do. But what happens when you have an unhappy story? You must tell it.

When I was teaching at Cleveland Middle School they called me Jo Mama because I hosted an African American club in my room after school. That and the fact I had a microwave and a refrigerator full of cookies and pop was the winner for most of my after-school kids. But there was on little boy who could never make it to my after-school clubs like yearbook, drama, or Japanese anime class.

His name was Harry. He came to our school over halfway through the first semester. He was slightly built with sandy brown hair and a little unkept even for sixth grade. He was put in seventh period advisory, which had been rowdy all year, so I didn’t pay much attention to one more scruffy kid. This was a study hall, I am not teaching, I am tutoring. Harry seemed to get along with the rest of the students, but after a week, he asked for a pass to go to the library. He wanted to go every day. This kid is a real “go-getter,” I thought, and I wrote him a daily pass.

Then our librarian came to the faculty meeting and said that if a student did not have a specific project or research, she would like to limit students using the library seventh period. Most came for a tete-a-tete, make-up break, make overs of hair and nails, or passing notes. We all agreed and told our study halls about the new rule. Harry looked as if I had passed out a death sentence. He was always pale but as I watched he actually got paler.

Over lunch the next day I overheard the librarian remarked how the little new sixth grader had made himself at home in our newly remodeled sitting area. I knew this had to be Harry and I told the librarian I would quit giving him a pass. She looked up and said, “Oh I don’t mean Harry. He comes in to read.” I broke the news to Harry, and he was overjoyed. This went on for the rest of the semester. When I went to give him his report card, he was gone.

The counselor confirmed that Harry was homeless, and his mother worked in the bar down the street from the school. Harry slept in the van behind the bar. This year was his seventh school. When I got back to my desk there was a note I had not opened from Harry. He had left it the week before. “Mrs. White, thank you for giving me a pass to the library. Someday when I have a home of my own, I will have a divan, big chair, tables at each end with lamps and a coffee table. But I won’t drink coffee. And we will have a carpet on the floor. Hope to see you soon. Harry.” We got a request for his grades from a school in Arkansas. I hoped they had a library.

Roaring Mouse, looking for a tissue. Out. 

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