Friday, April 15, 2011

Success Stories: Levi

"How bad can it get? He is a good reader. He is a smart and creative kid. What is going on? Have we not done enough for him?" These are the thoughts my wife and I had when we learned how poorly Levi was doing in school.

He failed at least half of his classes in a traditional high school. He was falling through the cracks and getting left behind. He failed Social Studies, math repeatedly, he even failed gym! What's worse is that it seemed like nobody noticed or cared. Nevermind that he failed first semester math, he was just automatically enrolled in second semester math. I don't know about you, but it seems pretty obvious that if you can't succeed in the first sem math you also will be unable to succeed in the second sem math.

Everyone we talked to at the school said, "Oh yeah, great kid. Never causes any problems. Doesn't do his work though."

We pressed him, invited him over to do homework, called him to remind him to do homework.

So we pressed the school, demanded that teachers communicate with us, demanded conferences with school staff.


So we pressed his parents. "He is not showing you any reason to believe that he will be successful at this school. He is going to be 21 year old before he graduates at this pace, and you will still be supporting him financially if there is not a change immediately," we argued.

"O.K. I'll do my work," Levi protested, "Just don't make me switch schools."

"It's too late for that. At this point even if you passed every class from here on out you will graduate 2 years late. Moreover, if you keep going the way you are you will complete 4 years of high school in 8 years."

Finally the parents understood. They made him switch into a charter school. The school is strong on Spanish language and Latino culture. It is also especially strong on the arts. It is a perfect fit.

Kari and I had to back off a bit when he made the change. He'd had enough of us hounding him to live up to his potential, and we could tell. We didn't know if we had done enough for him, but we had done all we could do.

He didn't immediately like it at his new school, which worried us a bit. However, reading between the lines we liked what we were hearing. "I hate it there," he'd say. "I don't talk to anyone, I just do my work. That's it." His tone was resentful.

"Good. That is what you are supposed to do."

"Those kids are uncool," he'd say.

"So what? Maybe you need to succeed in school more than you need to have friends at school."

"I'm just going to work hard, catch up then go back to my other school."

We wanted to respond to that with outrage, but the time for outrage had passed. Whatever motivates him at this point is good. Even if it is getting out of his new school. Most likely, we reasoned, once he tastes success, he will love it.

Sure enough, he was chosen to create a mural on the back wall of the school. He became a leader. His talent shone through. The last time I talked to him this is what he said, "I'm taking a college course this summer. Two weeks I get to live on campus and study. Oh and I'm not 100% sure yet, but I think I'm going to graduate on time next year."

That is what we live for at DinoMights. Trust me, it is uncomfortable to be lying in bed at night wondering about if we've done enough. Truthfully, sometimes it doesn't matter. Not every story turns out like this one. But, we know that kids like Levi are worth the sleepless nights, and we joyfully celebrate when they have this kind of success.

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