I went with the educational assistant to look for a missing student. She had been absent for weeks and we were worried We arrived at a building littered with used needles, reeking of urine and heatless in the dead of winter. As we stood in the desolate lobby my beloved assistant, sighed in horror, "how could I have taken you here?'
As if the worst thing about the this descent into the depths of human suffering, was that, this young white new teacher should be exposed to this kind of despair.
We didn't find the little girl. She disappeared from our register.
The paraprofessional remains a cherished friend to this day, thirty years later.
The South Bronx today has little physical resemblance to the burnt out shell of a borough where I began my teaching career. The buildings of the famous fires of "the Bronx is burning" decade have been either torn down or renovated. The tin window covers painted with fake plants have been replaced by glass panes. Whether the lives behind them have changed significantly for the better I could not say. I changed jobs and boroughs years ago.
Today we went on a field trip. We had one of those fancy coach buses I associate with Atlantic City runs and a bus driver that believed he could save time by following the GPS Unit through the side streets of the Bronx. We passed lots of building that could have been the site of that unsuccessful home visit three decades ago- had the building been completely renovated and made inhabitable by current standards. Who could tell?
The magical mystery tour through the Bronx did not impress my current students. I heard no observations about the neighborhood as we wound our way between highways. However, when we exited the major highway and found ourselves passing though rural towns the comments flew fast and furious. Eloise wanted to know if the kids went to school there, we had driven at least five minutes without passing a school building, something, Eloise thought impossible. Kelvin said the houses looked like where "every horror movie ever made" was filmed. Joshua wanted to know if Twilight was made there and Eloise still trying to absorb the possibilities of rural life, wanted to know what people do at night?
We did finally arrive at the environmental center in the middle of the woods. I might write about that experience at another time, but its late and I'm getting tired. But by the end of the day the fall sunlight was filtering through the trees and the air smelled of pine and fresh earth as we boarded the buses. More than one student told me they wouldn't mind living in the woods.