Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chopped Down

I guess it was as unavoidable as it is sad...the chances for success were slim and none, and slim had just left town. Still, I guess I am surprised that the end might be written in prison...most likely, that is.
He had escaped from the Sudan with his mother and siblings in the face of violence and death. Like so many who came to America, there was an abundance of hope for all of them; moving from state to state through the early years meant that schooling was often an afterthought: staying alive and connected with other Sudanese was critical. Four or five moves and a variety of schooling situations left the young man woefully ignorant and bereft of most of the "school" skills his peers had long since learned. By the time he'd reached high school in Mankato, Minnesota, he was a hulking youngster with incredible physical skills, especially with a basketball, but he graduated with a third-grade reading ability and a pile of special education documentation that would follow him as he grasped at the golden apple of college basketball.
Sadly, his entrance scores would not qualify him to attend the many universities panting after him with dreams of their own based on his skills alone. Two junior colleges followed in successive years, until he finally landed, almost literally, on my doorstep. As his personal tutor/mentor, it was my job to see that Chop Tang graduated in three years...his somehow having attained an associate degree prior to attending the university where I work.
Knowing the challenge, I attended a summer course on teaching reading, made friends with the professors, and marshaled every teaching skill I knew in order to prepare for what would be s seemingly-impossible task. Chop was none too eager for the rigor that awaited him, but he had no choice, and I was determined to at least teach him how to read.
I spent 25 hours a week with him: going to class, reviewing notes, defining strange vocabulary words and generally propping him up when it all became too frustrating. I'll admit it: we cried together a couple of times because we were so spent, angry and frustrated with an apparent lack of progress. He had the skill of memorizing down rather no doubt helped him get as far as he had gotten. Two students from the education program were contacted to work specifically on reading skills, and we dug up interesting, grade-level books for him. Another assistant coach spent at least 10 hours a week working with academics as well so Chop had no time for anything but learning and hoops.
Our reward? At the end of the semester, Chop had earned (and I mean earned!) a 3.12 grade point average. While I was congratulating him with a sneaky tear in my eye, he announced to me that he was leaving school because the academic struggle was simply too difficult for him. He walked out the door, transferred to New Mexico Highlands University, and I never heard from him again...though I kept up with his career for a while. After using his eligibility at NMHU, he dropped off the radar until last December.
Walking into a Savings & Loan in a Minnesota city, he brandished a gun and walked out with $17,000, only to be apprehended in Iowa a couple of days later (with family in both states, how hard could it have been to find him?) He pleaded guilty in court recently and awaits sentencing...and it won't be extended probation.
He never had a chance.
The educational system missed him, then the athletics system used him until he had no value.
Now, the citizens of Minnesota will support him.
Maybe now he has time to learn to read.
I wish he'd stayed.


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