Ahem! An update from the World of Opportunity in Birmingham, AL
- Subject: Ahem! An update from the World of Opportunity in Birmingham, AL
- From: ShopMathEdu@AOL.COM
- Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 23:12:04 EST
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
Dear ARN Folks:
Fair warning to one and all: I do not know how this stream of
consciousness dispatch will end. This is an alert to grab a glass of water
and a bottle of no-doze. Or better yet, to click on the delete icon right
now, even though I would be mildly offended for my dispatches to end up in
the same cyberspace boneyard alongside Dr. Burke or Pentagon D.
We are a list which has disdain for equating students, young human
beings, with numbers, and yet it is some numbers which compelled me to share
some information with you today.
Originally, this morning, I sat down to compose a dispatch to trumpet
that the next student who would enroll at the World of Opportunity would be
our 1,000th student.
Imagine that! As of last Friday night, 999 students had found their way
to the door of the World of Opportunity and signed up to continue their
education . Two years, two months, and six days into the opening of the
World of Opportunity.....(but who's counting?)
Life has been so tumultuous for us at the World of Opportunity (WOO) that
it was not until yesterday, late Sunday morning, that I actually realized
that today was Veteran's Day, a holiday for the city schools. So, I hopped
on the telephone and attempted to alert all of our Monday staff to enjoy the
holiday, get some rest, and to take the day off. They were all quite tired
and relieved to get an extra day for themselves.
However, since I had forgotten to alert the students, I headed over to
the WOO to see what might develop. Eight students showed up this morning and
one volunteer tutor whom I neglected to get a hold of.
Eight students who were eager to continue their education. Joseph
negotiating words in his literacy book. Toya wrestled with the practice GED
test. Marcus, a 24 year old young man who rides a ballooned-tired mountain
bike to the WOO and brings his bicycle inside into the main foyer because he
cannot afford a chain to lock it outside. Paula explored computers programs.
Chris and John just showed up. They are two of the three young men whom I
predict will pass the GED next.
And then, comes Lashunda with a beautiful 1 year old daughter hugging her
neck, and her younger sister, Gina, a single mom with 3 children. Gina
enrolled for GED and computer classes. She told me about her experiences at
high school and how pregnancy pushed her out. She once enrolled in an adult
education program but she was treated rudely and never went back.
I listen and shake my head to the winds as I hear about teachers and
administrators I have worked with, and the missed opportunities and precious
young lives they have let slip between their fingers. Sometimes, I think
that we teachers do not have a clue how attentive our students really area.
They pick up on our cues, especially our negativity and lack of faith in
them. Oh, do they tune in to our messages of discouragement. We must be so
careful and thoughtful in the way we work with our students.
It was just as Gina was walking out that I realized she turned the WOO
enrollment odometer to 1,000. I found an XL white t-shirt from a recent
electoral campaign defeat and she took that. And, I was able to locate a
slide whistle and bring a little fanfare to the occasion.
Not long afterwards, Debra was the 1,001st student to enroll. She is in
her 40's and signed up for the CNA Health Care program. She also needs her
GED. And she is not even 2 months away from the predatory vices of the
streets. November 14th will be 60 clear days.
At nearly every big "00" hundred, I have written to the ARN list. And
each time, I try to emphasize that the significance of the "00" is not to
mislead anyone that all or even many of these enrollees translate into large
numbers of success stories. They surely don't. Rather, the significance of
these numbers, now 1,001, is an indication of just how much there exists a
burning desire of disenfranchised people to continue their education.
How could one community hold so many students who were pushed out of
school? The consequences are staggering but they are painfully easy to see.
Street corners and backyard stoops where young people gather in shadows
hovered around bottles, chemicals and smokes.
Blood stains on a sidewalk where someone was felled.
Eviction notices taped on doors. Padlocks shackled to gas and water pipe
valves turned into the "off" position, or electrical meters locked out with
plastic sleeves to prevent the flow of energy into cold homes as winter
Babies carrying babies on their hips.
And a couple of sights which always causes a lump in my throat: Old
people. Very old people. Waiting silently and still, gazing into the
distant air at a bus stop. Or, old people, very old people, walking all
alone, carrying a sack of groceries. No matter how short the distance, it
summons tears for me when I see old people having to carry anything at this
time in their lives after having endured so much already.
And yet flowers bloom among this despair. Young children in uniforms run
up the sidewalk, released from a school day, spreading laughter and innocense
to the air.
Young men sweating, bent over, hand on their knees, out of breath, at a
A smile here. A gleaming eye there.
And then, smack dab in the middle of all of this, an old 45 foot long by
14 foot wide, classroom trailer, anchored to a pot-holed parking lot, and
attached to a 50 foot long by 25 foot wide, one story cinder block building.
That is the meager 1,800 square foot "campus" which we proudly call the World
For those of you unfamiliar with our origins, click on the "Support the
WOO" icon at the http://www.susanohanian.org
And some more big news: We have our own fledgling website now.
Here is the link:
;>World of Opportunity</A>
Here is the website address:
And there's more news:
Charleana, a young single mom, became the 12th WOO student to pass the
GED. And yep, like the others, she did so with flying colors. She is now
interviewing for a job with a local bank
Some of our staff have not been paid since September 27th. So, WOO
students rallied and organized a community yard sale to "Save YOUR School."
Our students who have practically nothing donated thousands of articles of
clothing and knick-knacks. They raised $675 from the sale. We had so much
left over, we donated one full cargo van of items to a thriftstore/literacy
project in Graysville, a small rural town 14 miles northwest of downtown.
And, we had still had more. So, we donated another large passenger van full
of clothes to Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Church of the Reconciler,
a refuge for homeless people downtown. Our student's generous donations are
helping to clothe other unfortunate souls in other parts of the city.
I shall never forget the sight of Paula, a middle-aged WOO computer
student, who took four trips by herself, back and forth, to drag the large
pieces of an old bedframe from her housing project apartment, across the
street, to the WOO community yard sale. And it sold!
And of the $675.00 raised, I treasure $4.25 of it the most. I am moved
by Latoya, a student I have worked with for three years. She was pushed out
of school after she missed days due to a miscarriage. Nope. No
grief-counseling. Just withdrawal papers. She scoured the sale items in
search of something. She found nothing after a half hour. But, she came up
to me and pressed a dollar bill and a quarter in my palm and said, "I
couldn't find anything but this is for our school."
Or 21 year old Cynthia, one of the most reliable people at the WOO. She
rode up on her bicycle and was reluctant to look at anything because she has
such little funds even after a full work week as a chef at a local
restaurant. Her family, extended as it is, is destitute and others rely on
her for assistance. I finally persuaded her to select a few pair of jeans
and shirts. She asked, "How much?" as if my answer would repel her. I
wanted to charge her nothing, but her dignity was at stake and I uneasily
suggested, "How about $2.00?" She smiled and handed me a $5.00 bill. I went
and got her change and brought her three $1 bills. She looked me straight in
the eyes, cleared her throat and softly said, "Here." She handed back the
three bills, smiled, and rode her bike off into the housing project horizon.
Nakita, our 17 year old GED student, has been volunteer tutoring to
kindergartners at the local public elementary school.
We had several students who were required by terms of probation to attend
the WOO. Under the coercion of probation they came to the program
reluctantly at first. We worked with them. We listened to them. We
respected and encouraged them. We documented and wrote letters about their
work at the WOO to their judges and probation officers. They are off
probation now, and guess what? They now come to the WOO voluntarily. And
with smiles. And with laughter......
I could fill the heavens of cyber space with our unsuccessful stories.
Of a slain student whom we buried. Of the grandchild of one student who
perished in a fire. Or of our students who are now in the county jail with
bails too high to meet, pending trial. Or awaiting mail from us in the state
prison because they were railroaded through trials where justice was not the
objective. Of young women who attend class and try to read through blackened
eyes. Or young men with wholesale sutures to mend stab or bullet wounds. I
could share tragedies of WOO students who have attempted suicide or are
runaways. We mourn over those children that this system has left behind,
despite hypocritical proclamations otherwise.
But tonight, I raise a toast to the triumph of the human spirit. To the
many successes of the WOO students. To the 11 other students besides
Charleana that have lifted their souls and the spirits of their families and
earned their GEDs. To the dozen WOO CNA (Certified Nurse Aides) who are now
working in local hospitals. To the WOO students who are learning the AutoCAD
(computerized drafting) program and assembling and disassembling computers.
To Nakita who launched our "Tribute" project and wrote about her Dad who was
slain on the streets of Birmingham. Or to Arnella who wrote a tribute to her
three month old child whom she laid to rest from congenital heart failure.
I toast the WOO students who participated in the International Boiling
Point Project. They are the only Alabama students, these "lack of interest"
students of ours, to undertake this effort. I salute Kortney who stepped
forward before judges, lawyers, doctors, bankers, politicians, and the
privileged and accepted, in behalf of the WOO, the Operation New Birmingham
2002 Liberty & Justice Award for promoting racial harmony and justice in this
I lift my voice to the dozens of students who have studied under the
guidance of our Grace Moore and Rev. Turner, participating in the WOO's
Langston Hughes Poetry Circle. They are reflecting on dreams deferred and
I am inspired by James and Nou-Nou who have written and performed a rap
filled with lyrics about the conditions of our neighborhood, social
redemption, and hope.
And there's much more, but I am out of time.
When the World of Opportunity emerged from the ashes of standardized
testing, some of you encouraged us to try to remain open. "Open the doors,
and they shall come." And they did, in our WOO field of dreams. 1,000 human
beings have worn are carpets down. 1,000 human beings with dreams, and
aspirations, and passions for a better life and a healed world. They have
come as students, and taught us profound lessons as we learn together, with
You good folks on this ARN list who rallied behind Susan Ohanian and
Gloria Pipkin's appeals have helped ensure our success. We have heard from
so many of you recently. From Susan and Gloria. From Juanita Doyon who sent
us the most beautiful t-shirts and tote bags. Please check Susan Ohanian's.
or are own website to see the logo which Juanita and Susan dreamed up. And
from Nance Confer, Sue Allison, Bill Cala, Eric Crump, Susan Hartman, Carol
Holst, ReLeah Lent, Monty Neill, and others on this list and from other
education reform lists. Thank you for your moral as well as fiscal support,
and for the books, school supplies, and curriculum suggestions. I am the
farthest thing from a fundraiser but I am proud to have received your
donations in behalf of our students and staff, because they so deserve it.
Each day since last December, we have been in danger of having to close down,
but we have inched away, a day at a time, for nearly a year now, and none of
this would have been possible without your support and encouragement.
So, here we are....1,000 and one student later.
As you reach this cyber post finale, the no-doze is probably just wearing
off, so I bid you farewell.
I offer three suggestions to other educators, students, and parents:
(1) I urge you to never give up hope, faith, and confidence in the potential
of your children or your students or our youth. Wear your heart and your
brain on your sleeve.
(2) I urge you to listen carefully to your students and to teach with and
learn from the whole person.
(3) I urge you to disregard the first two suggestions if you are primarily
concerned about your job and career and intend to fit into the mainstream
And let me add a 4th one:
(4) I urge you never to slander or label a student as a "dropout" again.
Warmest peacebuilding greetings and heartfelt thank to one and all,
World of Opportunity
To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
Post a Message to arn-l: