…a reflection of an equity bus tour of two middle schools by Stacey James McAdoo…
I came of age before America became “woke”. It was before Clean Indoor Air laws were on the books (or at least enforced) and back when teachers could smoke in lounges, passengers smoked in airplanes, and patients smoked in hospital rooms. Unlike most ex-smokers, I do not know my start or end dates. But I do know that I started smoking cigarettes in high school. And that I have smoked off and on during several different years of my life. The first time I “quit quit” was the day it was confirmed that I was pregnant with my firstborn. I stopped cold turkey and had no desire to smoke during my pregnancy or while breastfeeding. In a subsequent appointment with my OBGYN, Dr. Fred Newton, he made a comment that I’ll never forget. In response to my genuine surprise at how easy I was able to quit when I knew I was pregnant, he said, “That’s because you love your children more than you love yourself.” He was right. I always have. And I’m sure I always will.
How awesome would it be if we (society in general) loved ALL our children more than we love ourselves…our politics…our comfort…our need to be right…and our fears?
I recently attended an equity bus tour in my home city. We toured two middle schools in different parts of Little Rock. Aside from one area being more affluent than the other, the schools were built more than six decades apart – one in the 1950s and the other just a few short years ago – so comparing the amenities were a given that they would be like night and day.
Personally knowing some of the staff at both schools, I smiled when each administrator separately bragged on the awesomeness of their staff and students. I would have been disappointed had either said otherwise.
The first year Pinnacle View Middle was up and running as a school, the Writeous Poets and I were invited by some of the teachers to help their students with an upcoming poetry unit. I can still see the look of astonishment on my students’ faces when we entered the building. My students were in a perpetual state of “oooh” and “aahhh” as we moved into the classrooms, conference room, library, and the professional development space where a portion of our workshop was conducted. They pointed out the lighting, technology, and fascinating furniture and asked why they didn’t have the same in my classroom or at our school (Little Rock Central High School).
Just like the uncertainty surrounding my smoking start date, I don’t recall the first time I visited Cloverdale as an adult. But I do know that the gym today looks almost the same as it did when I attended dances there as a teenager thirty years ago. And it was there, standing on the gym floor, that I found myself teary-eyed. The tears honestly surprised me. I had convinced myself that I was prepared for this tour. I’d frequented both facilities before, had a pretty good idea of the curriculum offered at the middle schools, and felt confident about what the comparison of the two would reveal.
In the fall of 2018, the Arkansas Department of Education hosted a Teacher’s Night at a Traveler’s baseball game. During the game, they introduced the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Regional and Semi-Finalists. Very few people from my school or district attended, so when my name was called, I was surprised to discover a large cheering section to my immediate left — opposite of where my invited family and friends sat. It was Cloverdale. “Cloverdale, Cloverdale” as in virtually their entire staff — all sitting together cheering and screaming for me as if I were one of their own. It didn’t matter to them that I was not a middle school teacher or that I taught in a school across town. We were all One Band, One Sound. One LRSD.
During the equity tour, I found myself wanting to protect them (Cloverdale). I couldn’t wait for the equity tour bus riders to learn about how the mural in the library came to be or for them to see the recently created self-care room for the staff. I needed the bus riders to know that they were more than their inequities – that inside the schoolhouse were adults and students bursting with pride, creativity, resilience, and grit. I did not want anyone to walk away feeling sorry for them.
While standing on the gym floor, as the topic of Pinnacle View’s filtered water stations and Cloverdale’s poorer air quality and ventilation came up, I felt my heart sink deeper in my chest. I instantly started thinking about how children of poverty and African Americans have significantly higher rates of (and death rates from) asthma than other groups. I thought about things like lead paint, rusty water pipes, asbestos, and other dangerous chemicals that were commonplace in a lot of the materials used back in the day. I also wondered how many packs of cigarettes were consumed inside these walls for decades before it was outlawed. And how many harmful contaminants remained lingering in this nearly seventy-year-old building. Suddenly the equity tour became much more than one of academics and morale; it honestly became one of health — of actual life and death.
While driving home one day fifteen or so years ago, when my son was four or five years old, I noticed he looked lethargic, and his breathing was labored. Several doctors’ visits and allergy tests later, we were given a long list of things he couldn’t be around. Our home is old (older than I am but about twenty years younger than Cloverdale), and it was recommended that we purchase air purifiers and remove or replace the carpet. Both helped significantly. And for the most part, if he stays away from triggers (smoke, old carpet, coach roaches, rodents, droppings, dust, certain grass/trees, poor ventilation, and mold), he’s fine.
Walking past puddles at Cloverdale and peering into the interior, windowless classrooms, I couldn’t help but think about all the children who aren’t fine. I thought about those children whose parents aren’t as privileged to be able to make the necessary accommodations to their homes or lifestyles to improve their health. And I shed a tear for the children who, through no fault of their own, cannot avoid such triggers — not even at school.
I went home that evening hoping that these very visible and unquestionable discrepancies in our educational facilities are not an indication of how much we love our children.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 17 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*