It would be impossible to describe how history is so alive in the Delta. The cotton fields lull you into a sense of perpetual growth until you realize what King Cotton has meant here in the South. Our experiences with race and class throughout Institute have been organic and eye-opening… on the less serious end of things I’ve chatted with a woman in Greenwood, Mississippi who was an extra in The Help. On the more serious end of things, I’ve visited the homes of community members and wandered into small town businesses from Earle, Arkansas all the way down to Itta Bena, Mississippi. On the life-changing end of things, I’ve walked the same steps of Little Rock Central High School as the Little Rock Nine and sat on a step where Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke.
History is alive in the Delta. It is so alive.
I often wonder how my personal history, my life and story and time here, intersect with the Delta’s rich history of Civil Rights. All I know for certain is that I teach 26 fifth graders in Leflore County, Mississippi and none of them look like me.
My 26 fifth graders, my nuggets on a good day, sour patch kids on a bad day, make me laugh, cry, and worry. They are so intelligent, insightful, caring, and lively. They are also lacking in so many opportunities that I wasn’t even prepared to consider before this summer.
When I came here, I thought I would see the obvious disparities in supplies, no SMART Boards or updated computers and find that the children lacked brightly colored walls or exciting math manipulatives. Now, on my dream wish-list for Itta Bena, my nuggets would have pencils, a white board, adequate soap and paper towels, notebooks, a school that doesn’t flood when it rains, internet access, library books, fresh food, and air conditioning.
One of my nuggets, J, only chews hard foods on one side of his mouth because of the ‘holes’ in his teeth. I, my strong reader, doesn’t live within 600 miles of her family. K is struggling with the loss of his Dad this past year and C doesn’t have a sweatshirt to wear so he sits in the heavily air conditioned school and shivers. D shows me the spoiled milk in his free lunch from the cafeteria while M counsels my Teacher friend Ms. F when her stomach growls after missing lunch and says, “It’ll be okay, Ms. F. You get used to it after awhile.” I wish I was certain that each and every one of my 5th grade nuggets has healthcare access, healthy food, safe homes, and enough things they take pride in to feel like they matter.
They definitely matter. My nuggets play baseball, make up unbelievable dance routines, love multiplication quizzes, and playfully toss around new vocabulary words like pruney, transformation, and crept. They teach me one mean tip a day since I’m just “too nice.” They draw me pictures, write me poems, and want to know as much about my life as I will tell them. They have dreams of attending Jackson State, LSU, Michigan State… of going pro in football, becoming a teacher, and seeing life outside of tiny Itta Bena.
My nuggets want to be loved more than any other kids I’ve ever known. I love them something fierce.
I hate that I’m not the teacher they deserve, that I can’t manage my classroom in a way that screams “I love you! I’m proud of you! I care about you!” Mostly, I shush a lot and occasionally teach them a little math. They deserve more.
We’re half way through the summer and I’m already sad to leave them. I don’t know how to stay in contact with 5th graders especially through the realities of disconnected phone lines, changing addresses, and the distance between Arkansas and a group of nuggets who may have never left Itta Bena, Mississippi.
So here is what I would say to some of my nugs if I could:
To C, my tough cookie who doesn’t see how fluent of a reader he really is, you are smart. To T, who describes her goal as becoming grown, you are so valued now just for who you are. To K, my tiny basketball player, you have the charisma of 10 Michael Jacksons. To A, you will be the best teacher I have ever known. Thank you for always teaching me. To D, who mysteriously claims she doesn’t know how to roll her eyes, you are so special to me even when I give you a hard time. To M, who is most proud of his “tiny feet,” rock on little man. You make the world dance with your smile and tiny Jordans.
Nuggets, if you ever find this, if you ever have the opportunity to read blogs and ponder the reality of educational inequity that caused y’all to get stuck with me that one year in summer school, know this: I loved you then and I love you now.