My Students' Neighborhood

The neighborhood in which I work is not a particularly nice one. At the same time, I've never felt unsafe at or near my school. I've also always known it to be much better relatively speaking to neighborhoods in the South Bronx. And while I knew there was plenty of the problems associated with a high poverty rate affecting my students, I think until today I was somewhat ignorant to what that meant exactly.

For our writing pieces the past month we've been writing persuasive letters. I asked the students to think about something they would like to change about our school or community. Then I asked them to think about writing a letter explaining the problem and how they could change it. A few students talked about getting people to stop smoking, another student is writing a letter trying to persuade me to throw him a birthday party in the class. But many other students' letters struck a deeper chord.

One student is writing about how to stop the murders taking place on her block. She describes them as frequent. Another student read an opening to his letter today that described the fear in his building over non-stop robberies. Other students are writing about problems with drugs, alcohol and gang violence.

While I wasn't oblivious to these aspects of my students' lives, their letters brought attention to these problems in a way I rarely get to see. I'm glad I had the chance to hear about it firsthand. It's a necessary reminder of what my students are up against when I'm not drilling them to get ready for exams.

4th graders are still amazingly honest and open about a lot of issues. Even so, I don't usually get to hear about most of these problems. Most likely it's because the violence, drugs and crime are so commonplace it's often not worth mentioning.


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