Monday, May 12, 2014

Ode to Evangeline

The ACHIEVE program was grant funded and run through first the local YMCA, then the local community college.  For two brief periods in my teaching career, I taught in the program, pretty much as poverty stricken as the students I served. 

In the early 90s there was a grant run program I taught at briefly entitled "Latimer," an after school enrichment program for at-risk elementary students on the Hill, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city.  When my growling '78 Cougar turned the corner of Craig Street, I was met with drug dealing well wishers holding up blunts for sale, thinking I was a potential buyer. However, after seeing me a few times head for the little three room school house next to the community center, they relegated themselves to their front porches and eyed this paper white blonde woman with curiosity. 

Sometimes I would bring my middle daughter with me as she enjoyed the company of these raucous peers.  We cleaned and organized the little classroom, taught reading, helped with homework and, in short, attempted to escape from a world of harsh realities.

Evangeline was my favorite, a fourth grader with anger issues the size of Mount Vesuvius.  She was big for her age and made her presence known to the other students, either whacking them when they displeased her or vocalizing their inferior traits to humiliate and control.

I soon discovered that Evangeline, who was always in trouble at school, responded positively to my presence, and I even allowed her to play through my hair with her sticky fingers.  Instead of punishing, I praised.  Instead of rejecting, I accepted.  She became my daughter's protector and guide on the streets outside of the classroom.  She told her "I got your back."

I finished that session and never returned to Latimer, though I was asked more than once by the director to substitute.  I asked him how Evangeline was doing and was told that she had psychiatric problems and hallucinated during class.  Later, I was told by her cousin that she had done prison time, but had a child.  One day as I was walking downtown, I saw her with another woman.  I knew it was her because she still wore that same hard and angry look she wore as a child.  However, she had never grown much after fourth grade and now appeared short as a fully grown adult.  She didn't recognize me as she walked past, but I heard her say to the companion "I like her shoes."  I didn't say anything, just kept walking.

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