White Out on Tuesdays
March 11, 2009
March 3rd, Tuesday, I found you in your PE class during the sixth period. You walked over to me with your hood on but couldn’t conceal your excitement. I had spoken with you over the phone the day before that I wanted to sign a contract with you. You signed your name after we talked about what you could do to express anger when conflicts arise again. We had agreed that I’d check with you every Tuesday and mark each school day with a check mark if you did not receive suspension.
I went back to my office and marked on each Tuesday between March 10 and June 16th on my planner: “check with Maurice.” Then on June 16th, “give Maurice the iPod.”
March 5th, Thursday, Mrs. Watson emailed me after she found out about that behavioral contract: “YOU might possibly be the impetus/spark/nudge Maurice needs to make positive changes.” That Friday, Mrs. Watson praised you for having three good days that week. She told you that she loved you.
I had thought that I was prepared for the worst. Maybe you’ll have one more fight and be expelled to another school. Then I’d tell you that I’m willing to give you the reward if you have no more suspensions in the new school for the rest of this school year.
But Monday, March 9th, I was not prepared for the news that you were killed over the weekend.
I kept my regular work schedule as much as I could during my usual three workdays because I feared that my memory would bury me if I didn’t keep on testing and meeting with other students and parents at school.
But Wednesday night, after I finally completed my usual 3-day workweek in school, my mind was flooded by memory of you.
I knew that I had to write about you.
* * * *
You were sitting in L1 when I introduced myself to your class during that first week of this school year. I remembered your big grin because it did not match anything on your file: “low threshold for frustration… on probation for robbery…” I remembered telling myself: “he’s just a child.”
October 7th, 2008, we had an addendum IEP meeting to update your Behavioral Support Plan. Strategies such as weekly counseling service on anger management skills were recommended.
October 9th, Mr. Schubert wrote in his email: “This BSP is really well written. It'll be easier to implement for that reason.” Based on the recommendations, Mr. Schubert adjusted the level of your instructional materials and reported that you did more work in class.
We found out that you were not eating breakfast, which negatively affected your attention in class. I introduced you to Ms. Frates who kindly welcomed you to her classroom so you could get free breakfast from her before class.
November, I worked with you on several days to complete your triennial reevaluation. You were so easy to talk to but had a hard time maintaining focus on testing. You also gave up so easily when questions became more challenging. You’d claim that “I don’t care” with that dark cloud on your face.
Your mother did not attend your triennial IEP meeting on December 2nd, 2008 but all the paperwork was completed and signed by her later.
Yes, on paper, I’ve done everything that a school psychologist is supposed to do for a student like you, i.e., BSP and triennial.
But did I do my absolute best for you?
* * * *
In November, I found out from Mr. Petersen that you did not respond well to his help so Mr. Mince took over your case.
January, I was informed that you already had 11 suspensions.
Our principal, Vice Principal, program specialist, counselor, teachers and I had another meeting with you and your mother. We recognized your progress and encouraged you to keep on working on your attendance and conflict resolution skills.
The next time I heard, you were up to 19 suspensions.
February 24th, Mr. Mince told me that he believed that you had emotional disturbance and needed a different setting to learn.
I happened to talk with you that day. You were not feeling well and needed to go home. You looked pale but chatted with me easily in my office. That was the first time that we had the chance to sit down together without doing testing. We talked about your 14-year-old brother’s new baby. Your mother also had him when she was only fourteen. You looked like you couldn’t believe your ears when I told you that I had my first baby when I was 32.
My heart hurt. This is a child who was never exposed to different ways to live one’s life, some more productive than others.
You told me sheepishly that you were allergic to raisins so you couldn’t have my oatmeal raisin cookies. You said that your favorite is chocolate chip cookies. So I wrote on my planner that day: bring chocolate chip cookies for Maurice.
I did. A bag full of small packages of chocolate cookies. I was going to give you one each Tuesday when I check with you to see no suspension.
I also brought an iPod shuffle and a behavioral contract for you to sign the next day. But you were absent.
I remember how you showed off your dancing steps to friends during lunch recess. You looked so proud with your beaming grin. Our principal invited you to dance for the whole school. Did you ever take that offer?
I remember how you were surprised to receive a Christmas card from me before your IEP meeting on December 16th, 2008. The next day, Mr. Schubert wrote in his email to me: “After you left, he made very sure to take the card with him.”
I remember your grin when I went to find one of your classmates in January. You secretly pulled out the 2 notebooks from your backpack. “I knew that you gave them to me.” I tried to deny but you said: “somebody already told me” with that grin again. “I’m thinking to use that backpack too,” you added. But you never got the chance yet.
* * * *
I had to white out all the marks on my Tuesdays on the planner where it was written “check with Maurice.”
But I can never white you out of my memory.
My mind is full of questions that I will never find answers for:
What if I had worked with you on anger management every week since last October…
What if I had offered the behavioral contract earlier…
What if I had checked with you every week since the beginning of the school year…
Would you have not gotten into that stolen car that exploded in a police chase at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning?
I know that my life is forever changed. I’ll see your shadow in all the other students that I’ll work with in the future.
Thank you for reminding me that, as every educator on campus, I have the unique opportunity to work with students like you and touch your lives.
I stapled your contract on my office wall. It’ll remind me everyday: “Did you try your utmost best, not the minimal that you are required to do, for every student walking into this office?”
The iPod shuffle that you were going to receive became a goal that another student is working towards to reduce his chronic attendance problem.
I can’t make your funeral on Tuesday, March 16th, as I'm afraid that I'd say something angry to your mother: how could you trust your 13-year old child with a criminal late Friday night?
Instead, this letter is my tribute to you.