Symphony 16

Carmen tapped the folder and said, “This is a typical pattern for a Mexican child who has been in this country for two or three years and is doing well. If she is nurtured, she will probably make it. Her language could improve very quickly if she gets the kind of stern but understanding attention she needs.”

Carmen looked at Neil as she said, “Please don’t think I’m lecturing you, but this is critical. Rosa — all the Rosa’s out there — will not sound intelligent. She won’t be able to think clearly because she won’t have the internal language skills necessary for clear thought. But she is potentially intelligent.

“If you lose her this year, you will have lost her forever. Right now, she could catch up if you push her hard without breaking her spirit. But if she slides through this year it will probably be too late.”

Carmen thumbed through the file and withdrew another folder. This student’s picture showed a skinny blonde with a cocky grin. “This is Rosa’s competition,” Carmen said. “This is the kind of student that will take all your time if you let yourself be seduced by success.”

“Please understand, I don’t know these children. I have met Rosa through her older brothers and sisters, but I don’t know her personally and I don’t know Stephanie at all. I’m just trying to show you the general patterns to look for while you are really getting to know them.

“Stephanie is a top student. That 12.+ means that she got every question right on that particular test. The point is, Stephanie will sound smart because she had mastered her language far beyond what we expect of an eleven year old. Rosa will sound stupid,” Carmen made a face as if the word were distasteful, “because she has not mastered English. The Stephanies of the world always get more than their fair share of attention.”

Neil glanced quickly at Carmen, and caught her face in such an intensity of expression that he could almost see back into her own childhood to the time when she had learned how the “Stephanies” stole attention away from the dark, quiet ones.

Carmen returned to the file and pulled out a third folder. The girl’s name was Rita. She was skinny and smiling from behind a huge pair of glasses.

Neil looked at her test scores and just shook his head. “Why is she in sixth grade?” he asked. “She can’t do the work if she is scoring at a second grade level. Why wasn’t she retained?”

“I know this one,” Carmen replied. “I had her when I taught third grade. She is almost fourteen. Her family moves back and forth from Mexico even more than most. She went to first grade here. Then she disappeared for a couple of years, and came back for third grade, but she only stayed until Christmas and then we didn’t see her until the middle of fourth grade. She went to three other American schools during that time, for a few months here and a few months there. Who knows what she did in Mexico. Even when she was enrolled in school here, she seldom came. She has seven younger brothers and sisters, and her mother keeps her home to baby sit.

“She hardly speaks English at all. I’ve tried talking to her in Spanish, and her Spanish is terrible, too. Just when I thought I was going to get close to her and make a difference in her life, she went back to Mexico again.” more tomorrow

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