A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

When do you age out of high school?

Our school district has an alternative high school program, and recently added an alternative middle school program. I am not that familiar with the middle school program, but I know the gal who runs it, and if anyone can do it, she can. But I do know the high school program. Here's how it works: If one can't succeed in a traditional high school setting, one can apply for our alternative program, with shorter hours and adapted courseloads and no homework and tiny class sizes and the suspension of most rules mandated by the board of education. One can potentially earn two semesters of credit for each semester in our alternative program. Previously, freshmen were not allowed to enter our alternative program, but lately that requirement has been waived as well. At the end of this program, one receives a diploma from the main high school with no asterisks, no qualifiers, no differentiation whatsoever between a diploma earned here and a diploma earned in the much more rigorous high school setting.

It's kind of like Barry Bonds' homerun record: the numbers are there, but one wonders sometimes how legitimate the accomplishment is, and how deep the ignorance goes.

So, anyway, I was walking the hallway the other day when I rounded the corner, and almost ran smack dab into a former student of mine, whom I shall call Moon Pie*. I'd had Moon Pie after he had been kicked out of our alternative high school program. That's right. You can fail to do well in high school, and if you fail to do well in the alternative program, you get put back into the traditional program that you've already not done well in. Life is full of irony.

But I digress. I started thinking about how long ago I had had Moon Pie. I teach juniors, and that was four and a half years ago. There is no way he is less than twenty years old. Twenty! When I was twenty, I was finishing my junior year of college. I had just begun dating the fella who is now my husband. Seriously, Moon Pie has now officially become the Phil Niekro of our high school, except that Phil Niekro was successful.

Moon Pie's time in that class five years ago, known forever in memory as "The Island of Misfit Toys," was NOT academically triumphant. He did learn not to sleep through class, and he thought the Great Depression was really unfair. He was in class with the Slasher, of whom I have written previously also here.

But he has been on the verge of graduation for three years now. Last year he swore to me he was going to graduate. He wanted to be the first person in his large family to graduate. His younger brother beat him to it. But three of his brothers are in the alternative program with him to keep him company each day.

He is not stupid. He is so lazy that if breathing wasn't involuntary he would have suffocated long ago. He smokes too much, drinks too much, tokes too much, and has raised himself. He turns 21 in 9 weeks. So far he is not a father, as far as I know, and he would have told me about that, even knowing that I would disapprove.

There is only one explanation for his continued presence.

He obviously does not want to be on the outside.

We have become a cocoon for him where he can get two squares and some companionship each day, all without too much being demanded of him.

*- A Moon Pie is a snack of "Southren" origin consisting of two round graham crackers with about two inches of marshmallow filling; this sandwich is then dipped in chocolate. This kid, while probably crackers, nonetheless has a soft marshmallow center that is definitely not kosher. Sweet, but of no nutritional value whatsoever.

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At 1/9/08, 5:42 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I think you've nailed Moon Pie - he's found a place where he can be safe and essentially off the street without his having to do too much work.

How, though, is he still in high school at 20? Has he been coded?

At 1/9/08, 6:00 PM, Blogger Karen said...

How interesting to read your post immediately after the IM conversation I just had. It wasn't the conversation, but the person who I was talking to and the reason for the conversation. I was talking to a former student. I knew his birthday was soon, but not positive of the date. This is his 18th birthday and no he's not a senior in high school, he's not even a junior. This boy is a sophomore.
He was born in another country and started American school late. Then he was held back in 6th grade (I was his middle school teacher for computer and reading classes). He finished middle school (barely) and then failed his freshman year in high school. Officially he is scheduled to graduate high school in 2011 - when he would be 21 ½ years old! He is going to night school school for course recovery to make up the credits he needs from last year and so far is passing this year. He seems to be more focused on school work this year, but I'm still not sure he will graduate. If he gets back on track to graduate with his class, he will be 20 ½ years old.

At 1/9/08, 8:14 PM, Blogger tammy said...

From the view of a kindergarten teacher, it is really interesting to hear these stories. Thanks for sharing...

At 1/9/08, 9:08 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

I think they can stay til 21 in Iowa, anyway. Most of the time, however, they are not encouraged to hang out in high school for that amount of time unless there are extenuating circumstances (special ed., ESL students) that would warrant their being in school for so much longer than your average bear.
Poor kid. He needs a mom, it sounds like.

At 1/10/08, 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, a 14 or 15 year old girl could be this kid's girlfriend? Really, I think parents of other students need to be alerted that their child is attending school with a 20 year old MAN.

I know this has been going on for YEARS My MIL was a middle and high school teacher for 30 years and spoke of this situation many times. Now you've verified her story.

At 1/10/08, 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm saddened by this conversation. As a teacher in training, I would have hoped that some of the responsibility would have fallen on your own shoulders. To speak about any human being, much less a student, who you expect respect from but have clearly not shown it to here, negates any kind of progress, caring or education you might be able to provide. Perhaps this is less an indication of your professional behavior and more of your personal.
The thought that comes to my mind is this: once "Moon Pie" is no longer your student, he will be your waiter, your cashier, your gas attendant. Won't you want to look back and say that you did something for him, rather than know that you could have done more?
And as for your question about aging out, a few minutes on google found the answer. Hope it's useful for you all who choose not to "deal" the lives of your students.

At 1/10/08, 4:21 PM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

"Anonymous" (if that is indeed your real name),
I don't think Ms. Cornelious has shown Moon Pie any "disrespect" as you perceive it to be. I just re-read this post and frankly, I fail to see the disrespect. Was it the "Moon Pie" comparison?
You say that you are a teacher in training. Have you worked with this kind of kid? They're out there and they are frustrating to work with. There are kids who purposely fail because they like the security of being in high school.
And the issue of a 21 year old man attending school with 14 year old freshman girls is a serious one that does need to be addressed.

At 1/10/08, 4:27 PM, Blogger teachergirl said...

Whew! Anonymous - first, to play the game, you really shouldn't be anonymous. It makes you look like you are afraid of the veteran teachers who will one day share your hallways and faculty meetings and teacher lounges. Second, when you ARE a veteran teacher, you can mouth all the pious platitudes you wish. Until you have walked in our shoes, dried the tears we have dried, shared in the victories, prepped for the meaningless tests, banged your head over the stupidity of some parents, called the Department of Family and Children's Services on the other child beaters and molesters, sat in endless IEPs, fed children with your own money, graded papers long into the night, gone to games of children who weren't your flesh and blood, planned lesson after lesson after lesson, well... you just don't get to bad mouth the good teachers who have poured their lifeblood into teaching. When you get your degree and keys to the classroom, you'll also get your own Moon Pie. Or two. And then, we'll see how you feel.

Until then...

At 1/10/08, 4:47 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Ms. chili-- Students have the right of attendance until 21, I am told. No code required.

Karen-- At least the young man of whom you speak has had some kind of serious obstacle to overcome. Moon Pie has had every intervention in the world thrown his way-- and nothing doing.

Mrs. T-- There have been many who have tried to provided some motherly guidance, myself included.

nicksmama-- Yes, that is definitely one problem. And he does have a certain cachet as a result of his age. It's one of the things that bugs me about this case. And as the mother of Pre-Teen Daughters, I worry.

brave anonymous-- you have no idea what I and countless others have done for him. None. But eventually you will learn that people have to do something for themselves. You will either learn that-- or you will not last long in teaching. Careful about the fall from that high horse you're on. They have a habit of rearing suddenly.

This young man knows that I am fond of him, and I don't think I was disrespectful about him-- and we can disagree on that. But, nonetheless, his behavior and his choices are not worthy of respect-- and he long ago passed the point where he could claim to be a child and not know better.

The culture of victimhood to which you adhere merely leaves "victims" neither empowered nor responsible-- nor educated. And THOSE THREE THINGS are why we are here, above all else.

And Mrs T and teachergirl- you said it as I was typing. Thanks. You know.

At 1/10/08, 5:34 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

Here in NY, students also have the right to attend till they're 21. And a lot of parents in the new innovative 5-12 schools have their ten-year-old kids sharing the halls with these 21-year-olds who often have no mathematical possibility of graduating. They're not happy about it, and I don't blame them at all.

At 1/10/08, 5:43 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Fifth grade???? to twelfth??????? In one building?

Dude, I cannot wrap my head around that one.


At 1/10/08, 6:03 PM, Blogger Karen said...

The student I wrote about in my other post came to see me today after school. He's switching schools at the semester break to go to a school with a vocational program. He is very talented with cars and I think this will be good for him. He finally feels like he has wasted time and doesn't want to waste any more and he seems committed to finishing high school.

At 1/10/08, 6:09 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Karen-- That sounds like a solution. That sounds like a kid who WANTS to graduate by actually doing something for himself and expending some effort.

I hope he follows through.

At 1/16/08, 7:10 PM, Blogger EHT said...

Dang Teachergirl...You go girl! Great comment and so very, very true.

As the momma of a 15 year old in a high school building I'm very concerned with her being in a situation with a bunch of "men".

I just wonder in an avg. high school how many students are like Moon Pie? Two, three, twenty? Even one is too many.

Is this a result of the "everyone will go to college" mentality and the lack of vocational training and classes for those students that would prefer that route?

At 1/17/08, 8:41 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Even in middle school, where most kids begin their drop-out "track" - I see kids who probably would be successful if we did offer mover vocational type programs in middle and high school. Not everyone is meant to be a college graduate. We need to give these kids more options but with our obsession with college, we're leaving these kids in the dust and they're dropping out.

At 1/19/08, 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Texas they can go 'till they turn 22, and up to 26 if they meet certain criteria (SpEd or ESL). I have a 20-year-old that makes my job even more difficult. He's a man! He wants to be able to float around the room, come and go, etc.
I'm probably leaving ESL because of this. Send them to adult night school!

At 1/19/08, 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the above, I didn't mean to be anonymous!


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