Birmingham parent: How to save our children and our schools

Tae Alexander
Tae Alexander

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Tae Alexander.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

I’ve not been to space, nor have I solved the pressing issues of our today. It would be great to discover a simple cure for that which physically ails and handicap some of those dearest to us. I am simply a random 30 something, wife, mother, daughter, and friend.

I’m a product of school systems throughout western Birmingham, Al and surrounding areas.

I am the future student who has received an education in the once segregated institutions on which time had taken its toll. I’ve peeled back the thick layers of paint covering older coats of paint on brick walls. I remember the sound of the old creaking gym bleachers with carvings from 1978 reminding us that they too were here. I can still recall the smell of the old exposed furnace that worked too much during the summer time, and sometimes not enough during the winter.

I started my educational journey at dear old Council Elementary in Ensley, Al, and I completed my grade school journey at Fairfield High School before the preparatory was added into its title. I recall how as a freshman at P.D. Jackson Olin the pride that I felt as I spotted my family members pictures locked in time as an alumnus. I remember as an 8th grader at Glenn Middle bragging about joining the student body at J.O., and also the sadness that I felt when I had to leave.

I could go on and on with memories of being a student in these wonderful institutions of which I have found my peers gravitating away from. How is it that as students we enjoyed time in the schools that we are so proud to have attended, but carry a fear of releasing our now little ones into the hands of such institutions? This is not to shame any one person, but it does bring about concern. Were our parents excited about sending us as children to be educated at the hands of the leaders of these school districts? Or were they victims of circumstance? If given an opportunity would we have attended institutions outside of the Birmingham school system?

As a student I overall enjoyed my peers. Those were the faces that I looked forward to seeing despite the childish gimmicks. School was fun because of them, but I wonder why some of us never looked back. Is it fear that drives us away or is it the leadership? I wonder of the confidence that my parents had in the teachers knowing the issues at hand. These were not the fanciest institutions, but our parents never complained in our hearing. Every day we returned to the same school, with the same furnace issues, strict teachers, worn carpets, and highly buffed industrial tiles.

Looking back, what exactly did I see as a student under the tutelage of my leaders? I saw countless times our Mayor Larry Langford call an assembly of us students to discuss his plans for lovely Fairfield, Al. He spoke of Teletech, Vision Land, and other matters that would benefit us students and citizens. He would beam with such pride that it made a student like me consider pride in herself. I saw how he connected with us as though he could read our little minds, and knew what made us tick. He gave rewards to great performers, yet never failed to encourage everyone that they too were just as capable. Out of the many leaders that I’ve encountered, none has ever come as close to a troubled child, and purposely ignite a spark. He made this lost cause believe in herself.

I saw my teacher who seemed to see past my discrepancies, and pull forth my potential. She never ridiculed me for the numerous times that I missed her class, but she welcomed me as I decided to attend. Mrs. Linda Shields had a quiet disposition in that she seemed to see beyond the bad in order to push the student into greater. It was through her guidance that I discovered my love of literature in her class.

On the contrary, I saw the disdain in the eyes of some of my teachers. They never failed to remind me of how much I never measured up, and they never sought to understand what was wrong. I remember the humiliation of not understanding mathematics, and the fear of admitting it. I saw where there were hardly any openness to students to privately approach, and say “I just don’t get it”. I saw frustrated teachers, aggravated teachers, and humiliating teachers. For the world of me I honestly didn’t understand the true role of the guidance counselor until I became an adult.

A few friends of mine were former black students in the Homewood school system, and while we were sharing our school experiences they were astonished at my understanding of the counselor’s role. Until then I only thought that guidance counselors were meant for those who were excelling in school, and not for the troubled ones. I was amazed at how connected and personal the total school was with each student. From my understanding that in a case like myself, not attending classes were a major concern in so much that the parents were immediately contacted if a student was missing.

In looking at my beloved institutions it appears as though some were trying to survive a limited system. Maybe the same issues that plague today, were plaguing them years ago. Low parental support, budget issues, personal issues, system issues, etc. I reckoned that I was one that nearly slipped through the cracks. My inability to care about school was simply due to not understanding its subjects, and the embarrassment that I felt to admit it. It was also due to a terrible depression stemming from familial issues. The teachers would have not known that my parents’ divorce had a horrible affect that was still detrimental up until the 11th grade. At some of the most pivotal moments in my life, I had no clue that I needed major counseling.

Good memories, bad memories, and then happy endings. I eventually would pull myself together enough to graduate high school, and actually develop a love for learning. It would not be until college that I’d admit my hatred for mathematics. My professor in turn explained that I really did not hate math, but I simply did not understand it. He promised that at the end of the semester I would fall in love with math, and ironically he was right.

Looking back, there were leaders that possessed the reins to connect beyond the disparity, and could inspire the troubled bunch to reach beyond today. The obsession with school ratings were never apart of the agendas. They simply wanted to impact each pupil during the 8 hours they had with us, and were never afraid to touch even the seemingly scariest. I’ve met such leaders throughout college and beyond. I’ve met them in work places, in meetings, and at events. They are out there in all walks of life ready to connect.

So what is it? Are we looking for the perfect school system? Excellent teachers/leaders? A purposeful Board of Education? Or a group of councilmen who gives momentous support to the education of our moppets? Not a perfect school system, but a purposed. Not just excellent teachers, but those who take the role beyond waiting for retirement. Not simply a purposeful BOE, but a passionate one. Not just the support of city councilmen, but solidarity and solace.

To add, there is a grand need of connection in our urban school district. I know from experience that no matter how new a building, how strong a threat, how passionately one teaches; a troubled youth will care less about that which is not deemed immediate to them. We have to connect the dots to see their big picture. We have to shift focus to those that are slipping through the cracks, if we can get to their immediate need(s) through this focus we can save our kids, and our schools regardless of the budget.

Tae Alexander earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Faulkner University,  She is a stay at home mother of two and a writer.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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