my afternoon volunteering at the prison

My cousin asked me and my sister to volunteer at her daughter’s school for their end of the year/holiday party. We came around lunch time and sat in the parking lot for a few minutes in a spot marked “visitor parking.” We walked up to the plain brick building and waited to get buzzed in. We went into the front office and checked in, were given directions to the classroom and went on our way.

My younger cousin’s class was just heading back from lunch so we met them in the hall way. “Single file!” the teacher yelled, followed by calling on specific students to get their acts together. Last stop before class was the restroom. “You better use it now.”

We continued  down the hall to prepare before the kids’ return, my cousin and a classmate given the duty to unlock the classroom door and let us in. I couldn’t help but notice the uniformity of the almost white hallway tile to the almost white classroom tile, the painted brick on every wall in the same lifeless almost white. [Maybe there was a wholesale sale on this “color”?] Overhead boasted those cheap fluorescent lights, creating dull shine spots on the floor + those basement style ceiling tiles that brown so quickly and easily and always felt too low.

We set up in a the corner in the back of the classroom at a rounded table piled with old assignments and supplies. A cool, sunless, late fall day riddled with showers all morning, yet the room was uncomfortably warm-despite its two windows wide open to a small courtyard.

There are so many kids I whispered to my sister.

And the room is so small she whispered back.

They’re in fourth grade. A pretty even number of girls + boys. Some in school uniform, some not. [I assume the purpose was to make the troublemakers easier to spot.] Many hyped on whatever they put in school lunch meals and anxiousness, they filed in and found their desks. Mrs. Anderson  gave them another quick warning to be quiet and started her lesson.

My heart sunk. Half the students took heed and hung on their teacher’s every word. A handful stared at us or the clock or their shoes instead of the white board. Some chatted amongst themselves. Others looked completely detached from their surroundings, in a world far away from division and lifeless tiled floors and dingy ceilings that hung too low.. But really, how you can expect an 8 or 9 year old to concentrate on division [that new weird shit, too] after a toxic meal that probably hyped them way up only to drain their brains is beyond me.

Mrs. Anderson finished her explanation and began making her way around the room to assist students individually. It got really loud. Only the threat of no holiday party got them to settle. My sister and I worked simultaneously to keep the noise level down [the teacher had given up after the first few warnings] and help a few students. A half dozen or so hands raised high for help at a time, but hey, there’s only one Mrs. Anderson. But even on this good day with a pair of assistants, there was at least thirty of them, so some kids never got help.

Again, my thought wandered: even if there’s a lottery to get your child in, my cousin’s fourth grade class is not unique. There are hundreds-probably thousands- of children that aren’t dumb, they just don’t learn well in certain environments. And there are children that are not hyperactive or jittery by nature, they’re just pumped with poison then forced to attempt to consciously take in new information and quietly complete a task in a warm, crowded cell. For hours.

Only when work time ended and the music started did everyone come back to life. And these kids can move! And know all the lyrics and steps to the latest dance songs.

They just can’t do division.

It’s been decades since my elementary school years and I understand time brings change, but it was nothing like this. I loved school. I loved most of my teachers. I loved listening to other student’s thoughts and learning. I don’t remember most of my classmates being so disruptive and off task; I can tick off the few names of the rowdy ones with one hand. From all six years! The coldness came from the AC, not the lack of life in the hallways and classrooms. There was no looming sadness.

What happened?

Did I just have it good or has it always been this way?

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24 comments

  1. donzo442 · January 23, 2016

    School then and school now. The inexorable evolution of civilization?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gingerfunk78 · January 23, 2016

    Yes you can see why people home school. I actually saw a play based on how schools and prison systems are a sort of cycle. Very interesting

    Liked by 3 people

    • 25 Black and Alive · January 23, 2016

      Hey @gingerfunk78 I think that the school-to-prison pipeline is very real. Dr. Umar Johnson speaks on it in many of his lectures in which you can find on YouTube if you type in his name.

      Liked by 2 people

    • kelley · January 24, 2016

      I’ve never been to a prison but I have passed by and seen enough televised crime investigations to get a gist. And it saddens me because kids don’t even know they’re being conditioned.

      Thank you much for the comment and link 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  3. nidotopianwarrior · January 23, 2016

    school here in the Caribbean bear so many similarities

    Like

  4. Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet · January 23, 2016

    It hasn’t always been this way in this country but it kind of it now.
    I believe we were lucky people because we were allowed to learn without disruption because there was still respect back then.
    Plus trouble makers were generally kept together in their own separate class.
    Only what I remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kelley · January 23, 2016

      The teacher did say her class had the most troubled kids in fourth grade, but that weight shouldn’t be put on one teacher.

      They’re being institutionalized. It’s sad.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. swo8 · January 23, 2016

    Things have changed and not for the better, unfortunately.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    • kelley · January 23, 2016

      And the kids have no choice in the matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • swo8 · January 24, 2016

        The kids are the ones who suffer.
        Leslie

        Like

  6. K E Garland · January 25, 2016

    Things have changed Kelley, and for a lot of reasons. I think you said it best…it’s all institutionalized, whether we call it school or prison.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kelley · January 25, 2016

      I understand some of it- raising hands and taking turns and being quiet, but I was overwhelmed! So imagine how they feel.

      Thank you for tuning in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • K E Garland · January 25, 2016

        …defeated and bored, I’m sure. At least you were able to leave. No prob girl! Your posts are always enlightening and uplifting.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. nshami14 · January 25, 2016

    The classes were smaller when I came up, and we little people feared the teacher more. They could smack you back then, with no consequences. They didn’t play. More than anything though, I loved learning and it seemed like the little faces around me did too…even after the toxic lunches that no way would I eat today. The disruptive kids got sent to the principles office. Think some of it is lack of home-training too. The first place the little ones learn to behave is at home. Good post, Kelley and glad you survived “prison”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kelley · January 25, 2016

      No doubt. I wish they could still hit kids. But I agree-it starts at home. I know I was scared to get bad grades because my parents would take my favorite things away. And misbehaving was never even a thought. There is probably no consequence for many of these kids, at school or at home.

      And thank you! Two hours on the inside was no joke!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. tunisiajolyn84 · January 27, 2016

    I wish I could say I had a similar experience as you but growing up, it was very similar to this class. Well…middle school was. My elementary and high schools were somewhat better experiences but unfortunately, I’ve never really fully enjoyed school for some of the reasons explained in this post. I will say that I started to enjoy learning in college which is very unfortunate but very true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kelley · January 28, 2016

      Man I hate to hear that. I’m sure many of these kids feel the same way. You know how you live life in your little bubble and you’re aware of certain things going on, but it takes going through it-actually being IN it-to burst that bubble and bring you back down to earth? Yea, that’s what this was. And I guess I needed it.

      Many thanks for tuning in + sharing your story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tunisiajolyn84 · January 28, 2016

        I feel you and yup unfortunately, it’s a common story for inner city youth.

        Like

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