Working groups give regular community members a chance to hear from experts. More importantly, though, these meetings are a space where everyday people who want the best for the region – and have varied backgrounds, experiences, and ideas – can hear from and speak with one another face-to-face about putting that best within everyone’s reach.
Anytime that many people get together to dream, and talk about actually doing, big, things are bound to get a little heated. Case in point: the fourth Child Well-Being & Education working group in late April closed with a clash between two participants with very different views on dealing with troubled institutions like Normandy High School.
One said shut them down.
The other said no way.
Both shook heads, saying words.
There were still words being said through the co-chair’s official adjournment.
But that was not the end. There was more.
The following’s an excerpt of the exchange that came after the working group concluded and most had packed up and left. What passed between the disagreeing parties, Jauquin (JH) and Crystal (CW), illustrated the non-speaking aspects of uncomfortable conversations: namely, that sticking around and sticking it out to hear potentially uncomfortable exchanges can reveal unexpected similarities that bridge difference.
JH: … so that’s why I’m saying I’m a flip-coin of you.
I had some of the same experiences [you did] – maybe even worse –
because I didn’t have a hope… I came up here [in North St. Louis]…
CW: You’re a teacher, aren’t you?
JH: I was trying to be a teacher,
but I was mainly a tutor.
But that was because –
CW: Why didn’t you become a teacher?
JH: Because that’s part of my plan…
CW: Did you finish college?
JH: Yes, I did that – [and] without my mother’s help –
CW: What college did you attend?
JH: I went down to Rolla… (laughs)
CW: (smiling) You were good in math, then, if you went to Rolla…
JH: Yes. So what I’m telling you is that there’s
that one part, there’s that exception to that rule…
There were people that mentored me,
that helped me along the way, if I went
into those traps. So it doesn’t matter if you push
them [students from low-performing schools] out
or leave them there: there still needs to be
someone there that does
care about them. As long as that piece is in there,
intact, and being funded or hopefully nurtured,
that would be the pivotal piece
that gets us out of this mess –
CW: But we still could shut Normandy, shut all them schools
that don’t have as many kids like you leaving it, you know
what I’m saying? And work on the other schools,
JH: I agree – overhaul ‘em…
CW: Jennings is like 70 percent or something…
JH: Yeah – but like, that was because someone with passion –
what’d [Dr. Sharonica Hardin] say? four hours away? from
a different side of the state? – comes in every other day. It’s
because of that person, that’s what I’m saying. But
pushing [kids] out like we’ve been doing – we just
push them out, and “That’s County’s problem now –“
CW: But none of that matters. The only thing that matters
is that they’re getting to a school where
the school is working for the kids –
JH: But for that to happen, you’ve got to
have people there… I mean, I do agree with you…
CW: And if [that approach]’s working for kids now,
and no one’s there, or whatever’s going on now…
then you can work on getting kids out there.
You can’t let that be the reason, can’t
make that the reason they can’t go there…
JH: Exactly. But the reason they ship ‘em out is
because, you’re saying those schools aren’t working,
it’s because there’s no engagement, there’s a lack of
mentoring, right? Or there’s a lack of something
because if there was something there, or was at least
stable, these kids wouldn’t be going and doing something else…
CW: It doesn’t matter why it’s not working:
the only thing is it’s not working.
So get those kids to somewhere that’s working; and
the places that’s working can take those ideas and put them there.
JH: So that’s why now the County
is adopting most of the City’s problems,
because we already moved them out, we’re moving them out.
CW: Well, it don’t matter because their teachers
come from out there, anyway.
We should not have an area
where there’s all poor people – we shouldn’t have a school where
all the kids in the school are poor, you know what I’m saying?
That should not even be in existence. Every school, every public school
in the United States, should have a certain amount of
wealthy kids, a certain amount of middle class, and a small percentage of poor kids. There should never be no school all the kids are poor.
JH: Yes. That’s idealistic, and that should be the case.
But the thing is, where are those other tier kids
[who aren’t high performers] going to be at?