Raised in an upper-middle class home I’m sure as a child I had little understanding of how the other half lives. Years later working in the inner-city I had a rude awakening.
As a newly licensed high school librarian I was assigned by the New York City Board of Education to a small vocational high school in the south Bronx, a neighborhood made infamous by the 1981 movie Fort Apache, The Bronx.
The neighborhood was sketchy with empty, burnt-out buildings, graffiti everywhere, broken bottles in the street, litter-filled lots, and one morning a few blocks from our school a dead body found sprawled on the sidewalk. The local bank where many of us cashed our paychecks was robbed so many times it finally closed.
In fact I came to think of our school – Jane Addams Vocational – as an oasis in the asphalt jungle – staffed, I soon discovered, by a faculty of passionately dedicated teachers, many who became lifelong friends. And all who shared one mission – to educate kids who were among the most disadvantaged in the city, pulling them up by their bootstraps, and giving them the compassion and support they deserved. (See Magazines for the Principal, The Diary of a Young Girl, The Parking Lot Seniority List, Mr October, and Educator of the Year – Remembering Milton)
Our student body was predominantly Black and Hispanic, many were recent immigrants who spoke little English, and most whose families were on Welfare. In addition to lunch we served our students breakfast, a meal many would not have gotten at home.
And our school was one of a few in the city that ran a day care program in the building so students who were young mothers could finish high school while their infants were well cared for.
Many of our students were from broken homes or single-parent families, some lived with grandparents or older siblings, some were victims of abuse and neglect, and some were involved in the court system.
We also had students who lived in homeless shelters, and one of them was Tanesha.
Tanesha was bright and determined to make it despite all that was stacked against her, and with the help of her teachers and counselors she did.
Tanesha graduated with honors and would go on to college, and on the day she walked across the stage to get her Jane Addams diploma there were cheers in the auditorium and few dry eyes.
– Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!