Mary Hutti

Mary Hutti

Dr. Jamie Franco-Zamudio

PSY 200.01

13 April 2015

Stereotype or Reality: A Look Into the Public Schools of Mobile, Alabama

            Walking into Pillans Middle School, my body knows what is coming before my mind even has time to register. I come here twice a week, and like everything in my life, it has become so routine I barely notice that I am there until Kasandra runs up to me with a huge smile and a welcoming hug. This is the moment I know I am here for her, I am for a reason and my presence is valuable. Nestled in a corner of Mobile, Pillans sits amidst a Checkers drive-through and a number of gas stations and miscellaneous shopping plazas. It is obvious that the area encompassing the middle school is home to lower income Mobile families. The paint chips away at every weather-beaten building and the community is primarily of African American heritage. Unlike the “bubble” that encompasses Spring Hill College it is shocking that in the mere 15-minute drive I make twice a week, another world awaits me completely, separate than the collegiate lifestyle I have become so accustomed to.

            Pillans Middle School is where Spring Hill students of all grade levels gather twice a week to tutor kids in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Most of these students have grades that could very easily be described as abominable, and their motivation and attendance levels are at a painstakingly low amount. However, the girl I tutor, Kasandra, is amongst those student who “shines” in the eyes of her teachers and peers. She is smart and has nearly perfect grades; however, I have come to learn that these grades do not equate to brightness, or at least in the case of Kasandra. She is smart, do not get me wrong, but she is a doer, not a learner. She completes the “busy work” set in front of her daily and memorizes the material for the test, but she does not absorb the material in a beneficial way, and her grammar and math skills are extremely subpar for an educated girl of her age. This sounds rude and superficial of myself to sit here and say that Kasandra is not good enough, and I wish it to be known before I share my journey that I do not think it is Kasandra who is not good enough, but rather it is the environment that surrounds her that is not good enough. And since we all know nurture and nature help to comprise the people we see every day, it only makes sense that she is ill-equipped for the world outside of those walls.

            The content of tutoring can vary greatly for Kasandra and me, but the basic outline is usually interchangeable from day to day.   First, all of the tutors arrive at 2:30 on the dot both Tuesdays and Thursdays. Once we have located our kids we sit down with them, one group to a table. They separate us because if they didn’t then nothing productive would get done. This doesn’t bother me because Kasandra and I actually get along for the most part. Luckily, she doesn’t say degrading remarks at my expense or blatantly disrespect me on a daily basis. So, after we sit down I ask her if she has any homework. She will pull out her work and for the next hour and a half we sit there together and get it done. Sometimes, we will work with other groups or piece puzzles together or even read a book for leisure, in turn strengthening her reading, writing, and geographical skills. At the beginning of this academic year when I met Kasadra these days would flow smoothly. She would respect me and I would respect her. I took pity on her limited knowledge of subjects that I myself understood fully by the 3rd grade, yet she, as a 6th grader, has not concept of. She would listen, to me and even though some of the material was boring she would do her best to care about the words coming out of my mouth. I taught her multiplication tables and what a continent was and even how to properly write sentences in English. It wasn’t until 2nd semester that things god hard. Kasandra, despite keeping up her A average in almost every subject, began to disrespect me. At first it was little things such as talking over me or complaining a little before we started working, but then it escalated to a full out disturbance of our time together. She would, less and less, listen to the words coming out of my mouth and would instead parade about like she didn’t need to respect me.  It was clear that the new change in attitude had many “layers of he onion”, so to speak. And I understood that this problem was due to both her nature and her nurture. It was frustrating and after several times of talking to her I became complacent and allowed her to walk all over me. Not only was I frustrated, but I also felt an immense amount of shame for not wanting to be her tutor any more. The textbook defines shame as “a moral emotion that, unlike guilt, spreads to the whole person” (p.270). My whole being was rejecting this little girl and the role I was supposed play in her life. This was a huge test of faith for me. I knew I had been placed in that situation for a reason, but as it became harder and harder to control her I began to care less and less.

            I knew Kasandra was having a hard time both at school and at home, but it was hard for me to understand how bad the situation was until she opened up to me about it. She would sometimes share little snippets about her life. She told me that her dad was not a big part of her life, and that his new wife limited the amount of time her and her siblings got to actually spend time with him. She shared that her mom worked two jobs, and even though she did not share her frustration, I could not help but wince when she would tell me that her mom had an ever constant stream of boyfriends coming in and out of their home. But, one day she dropped a huge bomb on me. Her sister Tamya had tried to commit suicide earlier that week and her mom had pulled her out of school and into a treatment facility. What shocked me even more was the little compassion Kasandra showed toward the situation. She seemed fine that someone so close to her tried to do something so horrible, and at the young age of 12. At school the teachers did not care about her or any of her classmates. She would come to tutoring with stories of kids being physically and emotionally beating, and there was always a fight to be caught up on for there were multiple that broke out each day. I would ask how a test went that we had studied for together only to be told that they did not have due to the amount of student who came to class unprepared. Or worse, one of the kids would say or do something that made the whole class get a talking to from an administrator, foreboding them from finishing or even starting the exam. I knew what Kasandra was yearning for was “social acceptance” or “a situation in which [her peers] had come to like [her], respect [her], and include [her] in their group relationships” (p.389). I also knew that a rejection from this social acceptance was what brought her sister to the edge, and I often worry Kasandra will fall into the same out-group that swallowed her sister Tamya. Despite my concerns, Kasandra would often tell me how much she loved it at Pillans, and that she did not want to leave the school. I began to attribute her actions to “coping”, or “attempting to deal with traumas and go back to functioning effectively in life” (p.257). Kasandra has always been subjected to trauma: her dad not present in her life, her mom always having a new boyfriend, and now her sisters attempted suicide. It would only make sense that her decrease in “prosocial behavior” or, “doing something that is good for other people or for society as a whole” could be attributed to the many developmental setbacks she has recently experienced (p. G-5). I caught on very quickly that the little girl I saw twice a week was not the little girl I was at her age. Yes, I had experienced trauma and in certain senses I had already been through hell and back, but never was I so encased with the feelings of self-doubt. My anger toward Kasandra has nothing to do with her, but everything to do with the unspeakable conditions of life she has to deal with every day. Anger, as defined by the textbook, is “an emotional response to a real or imagined threat or provocation” (p.203). I knew that the circumstances at Pillans were only getting worse, and as they did so did my anger. My emotions were becoming “unpleasant [and highly] aroused” (p.203). I knew something had to happen soon so that Kasandra would never feel the weight of this festering anger.  

            What the hell do I do? This is a question that has haunted me for many months. It is the one that runs through my head when I think of Kasandra, her family, and the millions of kids that stand in a similar situation as she is currently in. Going to Pillans, as selfish and terrible as this sounds, has become unbearable for me. I walk in and have no clue where to start that day. I know Kasandra acts the way she does towards me because I fear I am the only person in her whole day who gives her attention. She holds all of the crap from her day inside, and when I show up she knows that I am the one she gets to take it out on. I am always there, a reality I think is very slim in her life. It isn’t because I am this little girl’s punching bag that I don’t want to go to tutoring, but because I have no idea what to do about it. Never in my life have I been so close to someone who lives a life she is too good for. I know there is a reason God has put me in this position, but why that is and what I am supposed to do with this opportunity is a mystery to me. I wish I could take Kasandra off campus with me twice a week. Sometimes I imagine that if I could get her out of the situations she has become so immune to she would understand her potential. I know the library of Pillans is where my work must be done, and it will be my everlasting prayer to do right by that girl, but like I said I haven’t quite figured out how that will be yet.

            I am so thankful for Pillans Middle School. My life has been transformed because of it. I have found a passion for education reform. I want to get to the root of the problem that plague so many public schools around the country. I intend to let you know that I understand not all public institutions are like the one I have encountered her in Mobile, and I fully support the ideals set forth by the concept of free education. That is not my qualm, but rather it is that this public, like so many others, is completely and totally corrupt. I say this with caution and I believe it with everything inside of me. I have personally witnessed teachers that shove off students, and through Kasandra I have began to understand that the problems that plague Pillans Middle School are not only serious but also fatal to the children who attend the institution. Not in the sense that they will physically die from going to school, but for sure they will suffer a moral and emotional sort of death from being bound within its walls.

            Although I have no clue where this experience will take me in my future life, and I do not know how to effectively make Kasandra’s situation better today, I do know that I have gained a deep appreciation for the whole human person and learning communities as a whole because of this service. These are memories that will stay with me for life, and that will some day soon help me to become the person I am destined to be. 


Reference Page:

Baumeister, R., Bushman, B., 2011. Social Psychology and Human Nature. Canada. Jon-David Hague.

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Stereotype or Reality: A Look Into the Public Schools of Mobile, Alabama