At the January board briefing, trustee Dan Micciche, after a presentation on W.T. White High School, questioned staff on the declining enrollment numbers from 9th grade to senior year (a decline of 1311 to 557 students or 58% of the entire class), and asked what interventions were in place to stop the loss of students. Having watched two classes move through Dallas ISD with my son and daughter, I think some of the answers are in the stories behind the missing faces.
I have a photo of my high school freshman son in his bedroom, a mosh pile of boys holding game controllers, intently focused on vaguely military looking guys racing around, interspersed with flashes of fire. I like to pull out this photo and compare it to the graduation photo four years later, and note the missing faces. I name the names, and try to understand why they are no longer there.
Lucio spoke three languages, could read Latin, and played the violin. His divorced parents pulled him back and forth between them; two countries and three cultures. The disconnect and the lack of stability became too much for him, and he was bored anyway with a curriculum that did not challenge his strengths. By junior year, we would see him on the sidewalk, skateboard in hand, waiting not for the bus, but for whatever adventure he could find.
Alonzo was in love. That love resulted in a little boy, and true to his values of family comes first, Alonzo dropped out and took a job at GameStop. His new wife stayed home, too, living with her mother, an older sister and her own infant daughter, and Alonzo.
Marco got math, he loved math. Algebra was no problem, and he helped his buddies as much as he could. But English, that was a mystery. The vocabulary, the phrasing, and the sheer volume of material he was supposed to read was overwhelming, and he didn’t read very fast either. He said it all looked like a jumble to him. He was not a recent immigrant, Marco was born here. Was he dyslexic? Was it basic skills? Who knows? One day he just never came back. He told the school he was being home schooled.
Richie was a fun kid, always smiling. He was very polite and respectful and I was glad when he came over. If there was leftover pizza I gave it to him to take home; he was always hungry. I picked him up at his apartment once; the door opened to a bare room, with at least six children under 8 in a giggling tumble of arms and legs, all kinds and colors. His disabled dad sat quietly in a corner on a frayed chair. His mom spoke no English but smiled and said hello, cradling an infant in her arms. Richie said he had eight brothers and sisters. After knowing him for a few months I decided the children must be foster kids, and that that was the family’s source of income. They never stayed in the same apartment complex more than six months. The last time I took him home was to an apartment in Richardson. Richie’s uncle was in the construction business, and Dallas was in the middle of the tear down housing boom. One day the uncle came by and told Richie he could make $20 an hour working with him. The school never saw Richie again.
There were others who disappeared from the photo. At least one truly did not have the intellectual capacity for the rigors of even the least challenging classes. Others moved to suburban districts; they have popped up on Facebook years later, grinning faces and tales of jobs and, sometimes, college.
The faces from the Nintendo party which appear again in the graduation photo tell a story too. There’s the boy who found he had talent as a soccer player, and the desire to stay on the team fueled his commitment to study. The boy who found a niche working with the drama department is there, too. I love the kid who stopped me in the parking lot in the spring of senior year to tell me he was going to graduate. This was the same boy who had told me that fall he had missed summer school because his mom had not shown up at registration with the money required, a requirement that has since changed, I hope. I had told him that he knew where I lived, and to come tell me if he was ever in that situation again. He asked me for the money to pay for his cap and gown. I was more than happy to give it to him.