I got a phone call this week - out of nowhere - from a former student. We'll call her "Shawna." She was my student during the 2000-2001 school year, which was my second year of teaching ever, and my first year of teaching third grade. She was smart but really angry (I think her mom was in jail, which goes a long way towards making kids have anger problems). She was also a total tomboy, playing mostly with the boys and dressing as non-feminine as possible. This makes perfect sense when you find out that she lived with her dad, older brother and younger brother.
Another interesting fact about Shawna is that her dad had her when he was 61 years old. Her mom, obviously, is younger, but her dad has a couple of dozen kids (I don't think I'm exaggerating; if I am, it's not by much) with various women. I think that Shawna and her two closest brothers might be the only kids he's actually raising, and raising by himself.
Last year, when I was still teaching, Shawna showed up in my classroom to say hi. I hadn't seen her in almost 7 years so it took me a while to recognize her. She told me that she had a 4.0 GPA and promised to bring me report cards. She brought me a copy of her report card - which was indeed straight A's - and some pictures of her, including one at prom.
Shawna got my phone number but apparently lost it until this week when she found it and decided to call me. She's still her same old self in terms of attitude - she is what we call "ghetto" - and strong opinions (which might be why I like her so much). When I asked her about various cousins I had known, she would say things like, "Oh, he dropped out of school; he told us he didn't, but he sure did." or "He look just like a crackhead now. I don't hang out with no crackheads." or "She crazy. I'm not wasting no time with crazy people who be jealous that I'm light-skinded and got good hair." (If you don't know what constitutes "good hair," you need to spend some time with people who aren't white.)
She also told me that her school counselor is pushing her to do "all these things I don't wanna do but I'm good at them so now I be glad." Gospel choir, various scholarship programs, some kind of guaranteed summer employment, driver's ed, and she's still on the honor roll! I told her to call me when she has performances or awards ceremonies and I hope she does.
She also said that her dad - now 76 years old - was in the hospital over Thanksgiving with complications from diabetes and they thought he was going to die. Her older brother lives with his 29 year old girlfriend (he's 17 - yeah, that's not legal), so it's Shawna (almost 16) and her brother who is either one or two years younger than her, I forget which. I can't imagine being that young and having to deal with a parent's serious illness by yourself. Her mom lives about 20 minutes away but doesn't seem to be too stable still.
I'm very excited for her - she says she's starting to think about which college she wants to go to already and promises to invite me to her high school graduation. She has NOT had it easy but she is a stubborn one and I'm sure glad she's chosen succeeding as what she's determined to do.