Friday, September 18, 2009

Off the Bus


Mel's office


April 2009

"Hey, Belinda, let's take a little visit to my office."

"Okay."

We sat across from one another in the sunlight and I pondered how to start. Belinda missed the last club meeting because she got on the bus. Belinda stopped bringing her script to rehearsals. Belinda's teacher was frustrated with this very bright girl not turning in homework and copping some pretty tough attitude.

This was Juliet last year. This was promise in full bloom. This was a snappy, happy talent.

Was is the operative word because something had changed in this child. I thought she might be trying to give a signal.

"Belinda, why did you take the bus on Wednesday?"

Shrug.

"Why did you miss Shakespeare Club? You know it's always on Wednesdays."

Shrug.

"That's not a good enough answer, Belinda."

The tears welled up, rolled, dripped and fell into her lap.

"We don't have any money," she whispered and the crying escalated.

Belinda's mom has four children. A girl two years older than Belinda, a boy three years younger and a toddler girl. Belinda's parents are divorced, with dad living in Las Vegas. The family had to move in with their granny in South L.A.

Belinda takes the bus to and from school. An hour and a half journey each way, every day.

"My mom says I can't do Shakespeare Club anymore because we don't have the money to pay my uncle."

It seemed that in order for Belinda to stay for club meetings on Wednesdays, her mom was paying her uncle to pick her up...and the money ran out.

"Belinda, look at me," I said this and with a tissue wiped the tears from her cheeks. "We're going to figure this out. Somehow, we're going to figure this out because you're the Narrator and we need you. Blow."

"Yeah," she whispers.

"Look, you have to take care of your script, you have to hand in your homework and you have to believe me....I'll figure this out."

"Okay, Ms. Ryane."

"Lickety-split off you go, back to class....We can't spend the whole afternoon chatting here in my lovely office."

Hug.

I called her mother and left a message, but never heard back. I offered to do anything I could to help Belinda stay in the club. No response.

I wrote a letter with a permission slip allowing me to drive Belinda home from meetings.

It came back the next day, signed.

So began the sojourns. After club meetings, it took an hour to get her home and another hour to get me back. I settled Belinda into the back seat with a pillow and she'd promptly fall asleep. I drove through freeway traffic as if transporting sixty cartons of eggs. Gently, gently...it was the only way.



CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
Dear Journal,

I loved my dog when I was little. My dog was my favorite pet. It was a dalmation. One time he was in the backyard and she was having babies. We heard boom and we ran outside and she was dead. Now I have always been afraid of dogs.
—Belinda, 4th grade



5 comments:

  1. If every sad and suffering child had a teacher like you who cares enough to go the extra mile - in your case twenty of them - there'd be a lot less drop outs and a lot more future grownups with self esteem. YOU ROCK Miss Ryane and I am so thrilled to know how true these stories of yours are all true.

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  2. If every child who was sad and suffering had a teacher like you - someone so willing to go the extra mile - In your case twenty of them - there'd be a lot more future grown ups with self esteem and the belief in the impossible. YOU ROCK Miss Ryane!

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  3. Thank you so much for the kind words. And thanks for reading their stories. I want people to know these kids.

    The truth is that I have the time to go the extra mile; teachers are overburdened with too many kids, too many test scores, too many mandated curriculums and too few hours.

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  4. What a generous gift of your time. A gift that will truly keep giving throughout this child's life and the lives of those she touches.

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