My brother is the one who likes to push community and civic duty onto others. Partly because of our military family background and partly because of his Boy Scout training, he takes pride in being really involved in the world around him. I have volunteered countless hours to also help out with my community, both with the Church and within my city. But I am not my brother. However, I understand the whole concept of It Takes a Village. And I share in the truth that man is not an island. We are all one and we all have a responsibility to one another. I’m just a lazier than my brother in terms of helping out my fellow men.
But something recently happened that made me want to do more. Let me give you more background. Before the kids were about to start school, I fully intended them to attend a district school in Corona that boasted HIGH test scores. Unfortunately, with my divorce, I moved back to San Diego and lived with my parents for about 3 years. Once I moved back down here, I still had my mind set on going to a district school with HIGH test scores. I looked at schools in Bonita, Chula Vista, and all over San Diego. Yes, my parents basically lived down the street from Bethune, where my brothers, sister, and I all attended. And while the test scores were decent, there were other schools that had better. In my mind, the TEST SCORES defined the school. What kind of parent would I be if I let my child attend an average school if they can go to a school where the results from the standardized testing was coming back in the 900’s. So, I kept looking.
The only problem is that when I moved back down to San Diego, I didn’t have a permanent address. Every school I talked to needed proof that we lived within district boundaries or have some kind of special dispensation to attend school across district lines. The proof that they were looking for was something that indicated I had a permanent address, that I was not some kind of transient. Proof was considered me paying rent or mortgage and/or receiving utility bills. Since I was living with my parents, I had none of that. And as such, none of these district schools would allow my children to attend.
Every day that I drove my kids back and forth from the babysitter’s, I saw this small building with a sign that read “Pacific American Academy”. I never paid much attention to it. But as the summer was coming to an end and Clarissa still hadn’t been enrolled to any school, I looked closer and saw the sign that read, “Open for Enrollment”. I called the school during my lunch break and told them my dilemma. Explained how I am living with my folks and therefore have no proof that I have a permanent address. The principal at the time said, “No worries. We’re a charter school, our rules are a little bit more flexible.” As such, I was able to enroll Clarissa just in time to start in September of 2010. All they asked in return was a letter from my folks saying that I did live with them and a copy of their utility bill.
At the time, I didn’t realize how small the school was. In the past 3 years that my children have now been there, the school has grown to approximately 130 students from Kindergarten to 5th grade. They also opened up a Pre-School on campus recently with another 20 something children total. The mission of the school was different than other schools. They focused on basic values like respect and emphasized the embrace of different cultures. The school was primarily set up to be a mainland school for Islander kids. Islander meaning children of Hawaiian or Pacific Islander backgrounds. Think of it like a Catholic school but instead of Mass and praying, they have hula dancing and lessons in Hawaiian. But it’s not all they do. They still do all the basic stuff like math, reading, and science. Though they are a Charter school, they still have to play by some of the district rules. But they still have really small class sizes and the staff is very personable and helpful with each student.
Now that you know all this, let’s talk about why I started this posting to begin with. With all the school shootings all around the states, the school district has made it policy that each school should have a Safety/Security team on campus. Also, there is a ZERO tolerance for bullying and threats. According to the rules, if a student should happen to blurt out, “I have a gun!” whether it’s a toy or not, whether he has one or not, whether he means to shoot someone or he’s just joking around, this is grounds for EXPULSION. A few weeks ago, a child at the school my children attend stood up in his seat and out of nowhere shouted out, “I will get a gun and shoot everyone!” There was nothing that any student or staff member did that provoked this response. The school administrators took the child aside and realized that the child wasn’t thinking about the children or the staff around him. In his head, he was “dreaming” about his parents (dead before he was born) having a fight and to stop the voices in his head, he yelled out. Obviously, this child is need of mental health services.
Here’s the thing, according to ZERO TOLERANCE, this child should be EXPELLED. But the main administrator was thinking, if I wash my hands of this and pass this child off by EXPELLING him, will he get the help he needs? Yes, this is a security threat, but is there another means to prevent violence from happening other than pushing him away? So, there was a mandatory meeting for all parents and teachers. It was brought to our attention that this incident occurred and now the school wanted to know what we thought.
Now, I’m sure every parent in there was thinking, HOLY SHIT!!!! And every parent for a second there had the thought to kick this child out of our school. Out of sight, out of mind. But compassion kicked in. And pretty unanimously the school agreed we should give this child a second chance. Find resources to get him help. Have the guardians be more involved in his school. Teach our own kids to be kind and compassionate and loving.
I understand why ZERO TOLERANCE is in place. But this has been an issue with me since I was a student myself. I have had issues myself in junior high and high school. And most teachers, parents, and staff members want to hide the problems, kick them under a rug, or pass off the problem to someone else. And this is why you get kids shooting other kids. This is why you have kids younger and younger turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, cutting, and suicide. Because we as a community fail to take responsibility and work for the future. We “graduate” our children knowing that they can’t read or do basic math thinking someone else will take care of it.
Yes, maybe my children are at risk now of being a victim of a school shooting. But if that child was EXPELLED, would that lower the risk of violence? No, it would just move the risk from my kids’ school to a different school. I am proud of the school my kids are in . They may not boast test scores in the 800s much less the 900s. And a good majority of the families that go to that school live at or below the poverty level. But despite their own hardships, they open their hearts. They push hard to ensure that their kids get a good education and then help the others around them so that NO ONE GETS LEFT BEHIND.
It’s like in Lilo and Stitch. Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. This is what this school does. This is what this community does. I volunteer at this school to see my children succeed but I also give me time to ensure that this school succeeds together.
Now, I wish I could take part of this love and compassion that is the embodiment of our school community and see it everywhere else. Regardless if we believe in genetics or in Adam and Eve. The truth is, we are all connected. We are all family. And as such, we should take the time to make sure that the rest of our family is not left behind or forgotten. There should not be this division of THEM vs US. The HAVES and the HAVENOTS. You don’t have money? No one said you had to give money to help your community. Give your time. At a hospital. A church. A shelter. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. You don’t have time, then give what you have. Donate your extra clothes, extra shoes, and extra food. Don’t have anything extra to give? Then, give a smile and a hug. A sign that you love and care for your neighbor and brother/sister will help a lot. Sometimes, that small gesture of a smile and hug will be the trigger that prevents another suicide or another violent community tragedy.