Corliss Smithen |
ST. THOMAS – He sauntered aimlessly into the classroom, ten minutes after the bell had rung, with his back stooped as if belabored by the small backpack. He shuffled to his desk, noisily pulled out a chair and slumped down with a sigh. His bag dropped with a thud on the floor.
Taking a cursory glance in front of him, he noticed the notes scrawled across the blackboard. Looking around the room, he quickly observed that his classmates were engaged in their classwork. Without even bothering to take his copy book from his bag, Jahlil, whose name like the others below have been changed, propped his head in the crook of his arm on the desk and closed his eyes for the entire session.
When the bell rang to signal the end of the class period, Jahlil lifted his head from the desk, yawned, stretched, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, picked up his bag from the floor, and left the room, as if in a daze.
“He’s like this most days,” his history teacher said. “He hardly does any work, but I continue to encourage him.”
Jahlil, 19, is just one of many students who appear to have little or no interest in academics. His school records show that he is failing all of his courses. Four other students who were interviewed are not faring any better. Brent, 17, is in ninth grade – for the third time. He thinks that school is a waste of time for him. He has no plans to graduate.
“School is boring,” Brent said. “I am going to drop out of school soon, get a job and get my own apartment. I’ve already discussed it with my mother and she agrees.”
Brent is not considering the option of getting his GED and he certainly is not looking into obtaining a college degree.
“If I can’t complete four years here in school, what makes you think I can make it in college?” he asked, rhetorically.
Andy is a 19-year-old twelfth grader, who is expected to graduate this summer. He expressed similar sentiments as Brent.
“School is boring bad,” he said. “It’s boring because there are not activities to do.”
Although his graduation is less than a semester away, Andy often misses school.
“I don’t come to school every day. On average, I miss school two or three days per week. When I miss school, I go on ‘moves’ – I go places, do things,” he admitted, without being specific about where he goes and what he does.
Andy said his apathy towards school began when he was transferred from public school to a parochial institution.
“I was in public school from Kindergarten to the eighth grade; I stayed back in the 5th grade and school was okay then. But when I went to private school, everything started to get different. I attended private school from ninth grade to eleventh grade. I didn’t enjoy it; it was too strict and they are racist, so I had to leave,” Andy said.
Despite his indifference to his high school education, Andy has higher aspirations.
“I’m tired of school, period, but I’m going to UVI to study Business Management,” Andy said. “I am a lazy guy. I fail my classes, but I can do the work.”
Clyde, 18, is a truant. His repeated absences from school – sometimes for weeks on end – has resulted in his having to take English 9 for a third year.
“To be honest, my parents are forcing me to come to school; I really don’t want to be here,” he said, but was unable to explain, when asked, the reason for his disinterestedness.
Reflecting on his academic regression, John, a tenth grader, admits that he was retained for “playing in school and joking around.” The 17-year-old is now intent on making a turnaround in his academic career.
“I like school,” he said, “and I hope to graduate when I am 19.”
Julie wants to explore other options.
“I just want to leave school to do my own thing. I don’t even listen to the teachers; whatever they say goes through one ear and comes out the next. I don’t waste my time doing assignments and I hardly do any work in class,” she said.
Her nonchalance has escalated to anger.
“When I am at school, I am very angry because I don’t want to be here,” she said. “I get into fights a lot, not because I want to, but because I want to get into trouble so I could be suspended and stay at home. When I don’t feel like fighting, I break another school rule, such as using my cell phone in class. I know that we’re not supposed to, but sometimes, I would deliberately take out my phone in the middle of the lesson just so the teacher could write me a referral and I end up being suspended. I love the days when I’m suspended and I stay home from school.”
In about two months, Julie will turn 17, the age when most children graduate from high school. For her, though, that prospect seems unattainable.
“I can’t wait to leave these school gates for good,” she said. “Right now I’m in the ninth grade and shortly after I turn 17, I may just do my GED and leave. I am not waiting around to graduate.”
Educators are befuddled by the students’ low morale to their education. Parental conferences and intervention plans are some of the strategies the Department of Education employs to minimize or arrest the widespread apathy. One high school principal, speaking on condition of anonymity, is confident that the measures are feasible.
“I do think the strategies can work with the right structure,” she said. “We need a staff member who is dedicated to implementing and following up on the intervention plans, collecting behavioral plans and following up with students. I have a lot of things to do; I can’t stop to deal with behavioral problems every day. We also need to connect with other departments and outside sources, such as the Human Services Department.”
She believes that it is possible to redeem these underachieving students, who, for a number of reasons, lack the motivation to pursue their education. “But it will need a collaborative effort,” she said.
Note to readers: The names of the students have been changed to protect their identity.
Next issue: Has this student apathy been transferred to the University of the Virgin Islands?