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Valuing a Connection Beyond the Classroom

Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Brinkley. Mr. Falcone. Ms. Breaux. Coach Dixon. Mr. Ussin. Mr. Cooke. I can recall teachers who have helped to shape my life. Along with my family and key male figures on my block, I am thankful for them.

My first-grade teacher, Sister Ann Joachim, still teaches in New Orleans. I am 42 years young. I can still visit her and recall great memories of my childhood. I can remember seeing a number of my teachers out and about within my community. They shared a common ground, a culture and a vested interest in the success of their students. Through church, shopping, festivals and sporting events, I saw these professionals engage in life. Maybe it was a childhood fantasy, but I felt a connection with them that extended well beyond the classroom.

My children have experienced a mixed bag of those relationships and as a parent I have noticed the difference in their experiences. My two sons have had middle school experiences in KIPP charter schools. It was better for my younger son who now attends the KIPP Renaissance High School in New Orleans and is doing exceptionally well. My older son who is a middle of the road student academically, but a social butterfly, struggled with the strict rules KIPP schools tend to have, rules that are indicative of many education regimes in New Orleans.

Many of these schools don’t allow some students to engage and blossom through many different forms of learning. My middle child did benefit from the more regimented form of learning though, which is a beautiful thing. Many of their teachers in middle school were from out of town, young, without children and seemed to be out of touch with some realities of dealing with children. The personal and communal relationships are far and in between and teacher displacement among those teachers seems to be a common thing. I reckon it’s the nature of the beast in today’s education system.

Nevertheless, my younger son chose to attend the KIPP Renaissance, a choice I believe should be granted to every child. He is excelling in science and math. He is popular and the band is calling his name. My older son chose a homegrown school that has allowed him to flourish with an academic style that fits him better. He is seeing gains academically, athletically and musically.

My youngest child has probably had the best post-Katrina experience of all my kids. She attends a community school where she has had a strong foundation taught to her both academically and holistically. Her school has a large percentage of male teachers and a large percentage of local teachers.

My two boys have also experienced a slight change in the makeup of their teachers. I see more local teachers, more black male educators and more individuals who have invested their lives into this new education system in New Orleans as a mainstay and not a fly-by-night pit stop on the education merry-go-round.  

I pride myself on being an optimistic man. I was taught that if something is broke, then you attempt to fix it. The charter schools that my children attend have seen some gains, positive turnarounds and increased efforts to bring them to communal and relationship-minded institutions of learning. However, there are too many of our children still in schools that don’t fit their lives and schools that cut off their creativity. This thing doesn’t work if all of our children don’t benefit in a positive light.

Increased parent involvement gives me hope. Having more local educators is a positive step in the right direction. The presence of black male educators is a sign of encouragement for our community and gives me hope that embrace of our culture is on the horizon. Relationships, memories and connections are important to help shape and mold our kids’ lives.

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