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The Truth About Philadelphia

Helen Gym
School Teacher, Center City


Question #9: What have been the most dramatic moments of your life living in Philadelphia?

Glenn: In terms of your life here in the city, have been the dramatic moments living in the city for you?

Helen: Umm, (clears throat) oh God, let's see. Probably, well one of them was, uh, when we went to or, one of them was when I attended a, umm, a meeting, a town watch meeting in South Philadelphia. And there was a group of individuals from the neighborhood complaining about the Asian kids who lived there and about all the problems they were doing and all these drugs. And the, they cops were saying something like they allowed (laugh) they like got a fake warrant to allow L&I to go through and inspect the entire house and they didn't find anything. And it was just, I mean that was a really shocking time where I heard a lot of stuff around like what the police were doing. It wasn't like really bad in terms of, I mean AU has done some really horrible police abuse cases. But, umm, you know, I was really shocked at least in terms of hearing a police officer say these kinds of things to this community group and I'm in the co..., you know, I was one of like three Asian Americans there. And I wasn't even there from the neighborhood, I was there as a member of AU listening to this. And also listening to the anger and hatred within the residents' voices and not really hearing a challenge from anybody in terms of race. And I think that that was really dramatic. Like, I think people feel very strongly about race in this city. And it's, uh, it's, it's a thing where, you know, it's got to be, it's got to be dealt with.

I guess another thing that was really dramatic was one of my students, umm, (clears throat) who was in my class had, was moved out of my class and, umm, just began having tremendous amounts of problems in his other classes. And he, he, he was a great student in my class, without a doubt the smartest, one of the smartest kids I had ever taught. Umm, was a wonderful writer, spoke well, articulately, very shy but, you know, very articulate. And, umm, did wonderfully in math, advanced algebra, you know, even in 5th grade or 6th grade I guess at the time but went into a regular classroom and really felt like things didn't click for him. And also, I guess that he, umm, wasn't going to be missed if he skipped school whereas he knew that I would probably come to his house and pick him up in the mornings. Umm, and so he cut classes and just had tremendous amounts of problems. And I remember driving around during my lunch hour trying to track him down. We found him once, pi...picked him up, brought him back, had a long talk. You know, asked an...another teacher friend to kind of watch the class to independent work while I spent some time with this kid. And then, umm, the whole year was a constant struggle for him and for me to argue with the administration or with my principal that he needs to go back into, I don't know what he needs. You know, like he, I guess he, you know, you can put him back in my class room, imm, but, you know, he needs more than that too. He needs to be around somebody who needs to know that they care. And you know he's, he needs to feel like he's not being, umm, targeted because he's Asian American. And, you know, we can talk about, it was important for him to be able to talk about things like why he wants to be in a gang. And it's not to be in a gang so he can cause trouble or do anything. He wanted to be in a gang whose color was yellow because it meant Asian pride, and I think that that had a lot of significance to it and it, it resonated for me and for the rest of the class. Like, yeah, we totally understand why you would want to do that because you don't, he's talking all this stuff about how the Asian American kids, especially the boys get teased in the playground, and they get kicked, and, you know, people look down on them and the lunchroom person will say don't you understand English, I already told you move on, blah, blah, blah.

And you know, what he said meant a lot to me and, and umm, he didn't get put back in my classroom, he didn't also go back to his other class and he ended up dropping out. And you know, I spent a lot of time like talking to him and like looking around for him, and, and umm, those were, that was a really long year because he left in February.. And from February to June I think a lot of my life was consumed about what was happening with him and why. And thinking a lot about, you know, our school would be totally unprepared for him. I mean he, as brilliant and as smart as he is, he just knows so much more about life than our school is ready to handle. And he's talking about the stuff that really happens outside the classroom, and if we as teachers aren't ready to bring that stuff into the classroom and deal with it, we'll never reach kids like him.

And it's more than just him. I mean I think there are lot's of kids who drop out and they're smart, they know better. They know that there's more out there than what teachers are offering. And that, to me, was a really important moment in my teaching. Like, umm, I realized that if I couldn't, if I couldn't show kids that what I could do in the classroom was gonna change their lives outside, that if he didn't feel it was worthwhile to come in here so he could learn ways to handle all the teasing and abuse and the umm, kids who were picking on him outside, what good was it. Cause he could form his own gang of kids outside and they'd survive on their own and they'd learn a lot more and he'd feel proud of himself which was basically what he said. It was all about re..., self respect and self preservation. And, umm, you know it was, umm, it was really umm, hard not to feel like our school could do that for him.

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