Elma joined us right after the winter break in the middle of her eighth grade, two and half years ago. Never a good sign. Kids don't get switched in the middle of the last year of middle school - unless...
Unless the sending school really wants to get rid of them.
And they really wanted to get of Elma, she dictated the story to me later in the year, in an attempt to fulfill the English class requirement of writing a short story. The "fictional" account started with the third person: "there once was a girl who slapped her teacher..." and ended with the first person admission, of "and then they sent me to special ed."
It wasn't hard to imagine Elma slapping her teacher. Elma did everything to convince us of her street credentials. She spent last year with magenta bangs-and a matching sweater two sizes smaller than her bra size- a confirmation of her affiliation with a girls gang. No amountof cajoling could make her lose the sweater (how she got enough oxygen in her lungs remains a mystery) we didn't even try with the bangs.
But two and half years have gone by and Elma hasn't slapped anyone. Elma stuggles to read and write-but cursing and wrecking havoc come easy. "You know I read mad slow, Ms. Teacherfish, she complains"
Last year over the phone I relayed to her mom that she is in fact slowly trudging her way through the high school curriculum and was on her way to graduate.
"Elma, is not the type of kid who graduates, high school" her mom told me. I thanked her for her time, hung up the phone and checked the high school diploma box on the goal sheet- it's up to Elma to graduate or not graduate - not her mom.
Monday- I sat with Elma and coached her though the literary response essay spelling every other word, but there were something so sincere, so dedicated about her intensity, that at the end period, I mentioned that I enjoyed working with her.
"Thank you Teacherfish" she replied
Tuesday was a Ricardo day in English. Ricardo brought his obnoxious, demanding, I'm gonna hijack this class with my foul mouth and outrageous attitude -self to class and sat down at the table with Kenya and Elma. The N word and F bomb were flying all over.
I sat down two tables away, too tired, too defeated by the school politics to wage this war.
And then Elmo stopped, took her assignment and moved up next to me.
"Lets do it." she said.
So maybe those magenta bangs will peak out from under the mortarboard eventually
Oh wait- they're gone. Last year's trend.