Teachers who care for the doomed children among us


I guess I have to admit it. I watch movies on the Hallmark, Lifetime, WE, and a few other channels. What can I say? I like movies…even some of the movies made for TV. The one I watched yesterday is making me add another teacher to my “most admired” list. The movie was entitled Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story. It is the story of a woman in Houston that saw a need in the schools and sought to fill it. Her name is Marilyn Gambrell. She was formerly a parole officer who became a teacher of a program she and a co-worker initiated in 1993. It was set up to reach the children of parents incarcerated in Texas prisons. She was aware of the violence and the path many of these children were on directly from the birthing place to the prison. One of the lines in the movie stated that she was already working on families of second generation inmates. She wanted to do something about it. And she did. 

 Since she started the program, she has helped hundreds of students turn their lives around. She helped many of them make it through to graduation and some even progressed to college. There is a discrepancy between two wikipedia entries. One says she started the program in 1993 and the other site says 2002. The movie is not clear. Perhaps she started working with the kids and eventually paved the way to get the program “No More Victims”  into the high school by 2002. Whatever happened, according to the movie, the program was a success. The movie was produced in 2005. Since then, the high school, M. B. Smiley, was joined with another high school at the Smiley location. It has been labeled a drop out factory since 40% of the entering freshmen do not graduate. She wanted to make a difference. 

 In an assembly, the principal told the students to look at the student to the left and to the right. One of the three students was likely to have a parent, or both, in prison. The figures quoted was 40% of the population. These were students who had been raped by step fathers, beaten, and terrorized and living in an area where drug sales and shootings were rampant. One young girl’s father who just got out of prison, tried to sell her for drugs. I thank God every day I lived a life far away from that kind of nightmare. Yet I taught in a school where every once in a while there would be whispers of so and so taken to jail the night before. Teachers were never officially informed of the whereabouts of the parents. There was no communication between the legal and educational communities. You just had to keep your ears open. You could usually bet, however, that when one of the children really started acting out, he or she was bringing problems from home into the classroom. This was elementary school. 

Marilyn’s first stimulus to make a change came while watching a mother being hauled off by police while a little pre-schooler clung desperately to her leg obviously terrorized by the entire ordeal. The child was grabbed by a grandmother and, although  the movie only showed the back of the grandmother, the audience could hear the definite thud as the child was punched and then dragged back into the home. It was difficult to watch. The following paragraph was written by a PhD from California, citing the situation in that state. It is the opening paragraph of that report

 Children whose parents have been arrested and incarcerated face unique difficulties. Many have experienced the trauma of sudden separation from their sole caregiver, and most are vulnerable to feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression and guilt.

 They may be moved from caretaker to caretaker. The behavioral sequences can be severe, absent positive intervention—emotional withdrawal, failure in school, delinquency and risk of intergenerational incarceration.1 Yet these children seem to fall through the cracks. Police do not routinely ask at the time of arrest whether their prisoners have children, nor do sentencing judges or correctional agencies regularly raise this question. Since no agency collects data about these children, “…it is unclear how many are affected, who they are, or where they live.”

Read the report. It is certainly interesting and the data probably pertains to situations in every state of this union.

 These are the children who are in public schools with teachers who are unprepared to deal with the personal lives of their students. Their jobs are to get the children to pass tests. Period. The pressure to do that is intense. In the movie it showed a number of teachers who very frankly resented the kids being taken from their classes for the discussions in the  “No More Victims” classrooms.  They did not hide their animosity even though the students met at different class periods every day so they would only miss one class in each teacher’s room once a week. 

I know that the resentment of teachers concerning absent students is real. It makes it that much harder to keep track of the work these students are supposed to make up and to make certain they get the assignment in the first place. I understood the teacher’s point of view. I really did. In an age when the teacher is responsible to address the educational needs of every individual student in the classroom from gifted to special needs, the task is daunting. For the sake of the students, inclusion is a necessity. For the sake of the teachers, somebody should wake up to the fact that teachers do not have enough time during the day to do all that is required of them.

 Who knows what the answer is. Our classrooms have children being raised by grandparents or other relatives, children who are homeless, children whose parent or parents are incarcerated. Children who this, children who that…their special needs are endless. The expectations of the classroom teachers is mind boggling.   I personally think that this program should be in every school where there are populations of these children. The cycle has to be broken somehow. We are going bankrupt paying for prisons that are bulging with inmates who are now second and probably in  some cases third generation. We are becoming the victims of theft by younger and younger children. I know. I thought I lived in one of the safest neighborhoods in For Worth only to be told three houses across two streets from my home on the corner  have been burglarized within the past year.

America may still be the greatest nation on earth…just don’t look too closely at all the bodies and problems that have been swept under the carpet.

Our country needs more people like Marilyn Gambrell. She saw a problem and is trying to do something about it. Namaste. Attic Annie

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