Dollar Days

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Journal 3/9/10:
Let me first observe that my school’s situation seems to be improved this year. There will be summer school. We have found the money. Financial oversight in the district appears improved too. Still, I think this provides a good picture of a poor school district in tough times, especially now that the state of Illinois is often very late making its payments. We supposedly cancelled a number of activities early in the year because checks that were expected had not been issued. I loved that recent article about how local vendors would not sell bullets to the department of corrections unless they were paid up front. 
Names will obviously have to be changed as I describe the following:
The nurse is out of ice packs. The district claims to be out of money. (I know they are. They have been deeply in the red for awhile. Still, they somehow keep spending for at least some items they want. Ice packs must not be on the list.) I suggest to my student “Jennie” that we ought to have a $1 uniform-free day to raise money to get ice packs for the nurse. On these days, students give the school $1.00 and those students don’t have to be in uniform for the day. 
We discuss the uniforms, then graduation. Graduation costs $130 for the grad package of gown, t-shirt, yearbook, keychain and not much else. A number of our students will never cross the stage for just this reason. The Masons have twins. Why not raise money for graduation packages for those who can’t afford them. (It’s hard to determine who can and who can’t, of course.) I’ll observe that the Principal helps out some of the neediest students. Other teachers have helped as well. One year, I got permission to sell lollipops to help raise graduation gown money. 
Then Jennie threw the real pathos bomb at me when she said we ought to have uniform-free days to raise money to pay for teachers so that we could have summer school. That way kids who fail could go to summer school instead of being retained. As it stands now, it looks like there’s no money for summer school. She asked how much teachers were paid for summer school. I said it varied. I thought it might be a couple of thousand per class. (It’s more.) “That much?” She looked crestfallen. That was too much money.
It had been a good idea. The whole idea of trying to fund a school system with money from students who want to wear jeans and t-shirts instead of black pants and red, collared shirts is pretty funny in a gallows-humor type way. We could open a gaming center and charge them to play video games all afternoon. That would help too, no doubt.
Maybe we could start our own lottery.
A few student entries:

Robbie really has no idea how to do his work. He is not defensive. Just resigned. I say you need to do this. He says he does not know how.  He missed – what, half the year last year? Who knows. He stays home to help his mom, despite attempted school and county interventions. I look at him. A brief silence falls. I know he does not know what I am talking about. He has missed so much I don’t know how to fill in the gaps. I launch in to try. He looks so defeated.

Diandra is going to Mexico for two weeks.  That’s two weeks of math she will miss. As I said in class yesterday, math is different than language arts. In language arts, you can have gaps and still go forward. Language arts does not have to be linear. Math does. But Diandra does not have a choice. The family’s going to Mexico. I promise I’ll try to catch her up.
Jaime was at the top of my classes when he left for Honduras. Now… there is so much he seems not to be able to answer in class. Was he in school at all during those three months in Honduras? He’s very bright. I expect him to be able to fill in his gaps. I doubt his brother will be able to fill in the gaps, however. His brother is much farther behind and needs a lot more time to catch up. He’s also GIVEN up, which is the real barrier to fixing this mess.