Symphony 115

On the day that prompted Neil’s mental review, Rosa Alvarez was trying desperately to prepare Delores Perez to read a passage on which they would all be graded. Neil disliked this particular exercise; it was a cruel means of getting the low readers to read aloud, but he had not yet found an alternative.

Rosa left her group and came up to Neil, looking completely frustrated. “Mr. McCrae,” she said, “I can’t get Delores to read that paragraph. It’s just too hard for her. Can’t she read something easier?”

Neil said, “I know. I’ve been watching. Are you sure that she isn’t going to get it?”

“I’m sure.”

Neil fished into a desk drawer and pulled out one of the fourth grade textbooks he had been using when they were leveled and said, “All right. If she can’t, she can’t. Let’s find something she can read.”

Then Rosa startled him with her mature assessment. She said, “I like the way we are reading now better than before, but I don’t think the kids like Delores are learning as much.” Rosa picked up the textbook and said, “This will be great. Delores has been coming over to my house at night to study. Now I think I can help her.”

Neil watched her walk back to her desk, shaking his head in wonder. Yet it should have been no surprise. Chicano girls are taught hard work and responsibility early in life; they often spend hours a day caring for their younger siblings. It is only in school, where the shyness that they are also taught inhibits them, that they seem placid and unresponsive.

At recess that morning, Neil listed his low readers and went to check out their addresses. Sure enough, most of them lived in the Oaks and Johnson apartments. That night he waited around school until the busses had had time to deliver their students, then drove to the Oaks Apartments and knocked on the Alvarez’s door.  He had deliberately come alone because he wanted Maria Alvarez to talk to him, not to Carmen. If there was need of a translator, he would depend on Rosa.

Jose Alvarez answered the door. He looked hostile at first, but then his look turned embarrassed and he motioned Neil in, calling toward the back of the house in Spanish. Maria came out drying her hands on a towel and stopped abruptly at the sight of Neil.

“Good evening, Mrs. Alvarez,” Neil said. “Buenas tardes. I’m afraid that’s about all the Spanish I know.”

“What do you want. Is something wrong with Rosa?”

“Rosa is doing extremely well. I have a question for you. Do you still think I am not fit to teach your daughter?”

Maria Alvarez’s eyes were opaque black and her face was suspicious. She said, “I’m not sure.” more Monday


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