My students watched the movie Freedom Writers in their elective class this week. Because we are such a small school (only 2 rooms) I was there with them as they watched. When the students went on the trip to the Tolerance Museum and out to dinner, my kids began to wistfully whisper to each other “Man, I’ve never been on a trip like that.” “It’s too bad we couldn’t ever do something like that.”
95% of my kids qualify for free/reduced lunch. Vacations or weekend trips like my family and I have planned next weekend are not a reality. When I asked, many had never travelled out of the state. So I asked them if they wanted to become freedom writers. Were they willing to read and write and study like the students in the movie in order to prepare for a trip? As one sweet young man put it, “Mrs. B., I’d write every day about whatever you want if it meant I could go on a trip somewhere. But you don’t really mean it.” “What if I do?” “Really? Really we could do that?”
We can’t go where the Freedom Writers went, but we are a 3 1/2 hour drive from Washington D.C. There the Holocaust Museum is located. And so many other amazing things to see! How can I take them that far and only spend one day? So, now it has turned into a two day, one night trip. My kids don’t have the money to pay for this, so there is a lot of fundraising to be done. So many details to plan!
But before any of it can happen, there is one big hurdle to jump over. The trip must be approved by the school board. This sounds like it should be no big deal, but the school I am at is an alternative school. Kids come to us many ways. Many of the students we have are there by choice. Others are there because they have been suspended and are give the option to come to our school. This is what others in the district take away, not the choice students, but the school where “troublemakers” are sent. I hear teachers from other sites say to kids “You shouldn’t be there. You are too smart.” or “I hate seeing you there with those kids.” Rather than condemning the behavior that got them there, they condemn the school and the staff that welcome these kids with open arms and are willing to educate them.
So, when this goes for a vote, we will be up against the perception of who we are. Most of my kids will be returning from this semester, even some of the ones who were placed there for poor choices. They are returning because they want to. It is for them I know that I have to go before the board with every t crossed and every i dotted. I have to have a greater ratio of chaperones to students than the policy requires. I have to have an itinerary that fills every waking moment and allows no room for errors or poor choices. I have to know where we will stay before I’m even sure how much money we can raise. I’ll spend hours over the next few weeks planning and sweating over every detail. I will do it because my greatest fear is that I will fail my kids. That I will be yet another person who promised something and didn’t hold up my end of the bargain. I cannot fail as an advocate for my kids.