Ordinary Resurrections describes the Mott Haven Christian School, which is located in the densest populated low socio-economic area within New York. Mr. Kozol portrays the students and staff’s struggle with low school funding and low family income. He also sees violent street behavior within the area, poor educational supplies and limited resources. He tells stories of the children and their families, portraying the trials and tribulations with riveting detail. The school and its staff are eloquently described as carrying and concerned individuals. They take care of their children along with doing as much for the families within the community. Many sacrifices are made by the staff to ensure the students are safe from the time they get to school until the after school program is over.
Mr. Kozol is Jewish and his perspective of the Christian faith is interesting when it is entwined with the community and the setting of this Catholic school. The children ask him questions about why he does not participate in Mass and he is generous enough to share some of his religious experiences. As time passes, Mr. Kozol does participate in some of the ceremonies within Mass and the children seem happy that he does.
Even though I am familiar with Jonathan Kozol’s work, I gained a respect for him being Jewish, trying to understand the Christian faith, and deal with the depravity of Mott Haven School.
The children attending Mott Haven range from pre-school to 5th grade. Their ages range from 3 to 12. This is due to the fact that many of the students were unable to pass the tests to pass onto the next grade level.
The children at Mott Haven basically come from one-parent families. Either their father or mother have been or are in the prison system. Many of the children live with their grandparents or other family members. Several of the children have seen their siblings killed in drive-by-shootings. Drugs are prevalent in the area and the families put extreme faith in the staff at Mott Haven to influence their children not to become involved with drugs. Economically, many of the families are unable to supply basic necessities to their children. These necessities include clothing, food, school supplies, and personal hygiene items. The school provides used clothing for both the children and other family members. Food is brought in from places employees work and saved to give to the families that don’t have enough food. Many gatherings are offered that feed not only the students, but also their families.
Church service is a stable to the majority of the families. This is the only contact many of the families have with other members of the community. After service, there is always a breakfast offered for any person willing to stay. The staff prepares, serves and cleans-up after the meal. Several of the community members will volunteer to help depending on what they have going on each Sunday.
Throughout the book, Mr. Kozol becomes very close to several of the students. He describes individual contact with both the students and their families. This adds great depth to the story and helps you to see what living in poverty is like.
I feel this book gives good details on how the children of poverty, who attend Mott Haven, grow and develop. They do not have many opportunities to have a “close knit” family and this causes numerous problems both at home and in school. The teachers work with this daily and even try to intervene with the family to help them cope.
During my work experience, I have seen many of the same scenarios presented by Mr. Kozol. Our students are predominantly black (63%) with a 93% FRL (Free and Reduced Lunch). Students who live within a single-family setting include 86% of our students. Over half of the student population have had or do have a parent or sibling within the prison system. These statistics present numerous behavioral and self-esteem problems.
Classroom management is a high priority. The student’s personal lives follow them to school and the teachers never know what has happened at home. When a student acts out to the point that a counselor or administration has to intervene, that is when the teacher’s find out what has happened. The students are extremely sensitive to their personal life and find it difficult to connect with staff to deal with their problems. They offer little information to the staff so problems arise in the classroom and on the playground.
With a student body of 562 and total teaching staff of 34, becoming personally involved with many students not very possible. When you add the teacher’s aides, cooks and janitorial staff, we have a total of 52 adults within the building. Their jobs do not require them to work directly with the students. But, many of them do take students under their wings to help nurture them throughout their grade school years.
Many of the children are lacking in affection at home. The teacher’s, including myself, offer as many hugs and encouragements as possible throughout the school day. Outside of the school setting, I have found the students want affection from me when seen in public. I gladly give them all the hugs they need. Their parents, or individuals they are with, do not seem to mind the added attention given to their children. I feel by doing this, I offer the children encouragement to continue to grow and look forward to another day.
Mother Martha, the priest, engages all staff members and volunteers into helping educate the students. She does this through modeling and communication. She has complete buy-in to the educational atmosphere of the school not only her staff and volunteers, but with the community of parents and guardians. Because this is a Christian school, the beliefs of the church contribute immensely to the atmosphere. The parent’s stand behind the school rules and the staff has a good relationship with the parents.
The community is a very important aspect along with encouraging the family to have a nurturing environment for their children. Within our building, we have a designated individual who offers these classes, picks up and takes home students when there is a problem at home, supplies clothing for those who need it, and teaches developmental classes for the adults. I feel this program is working extremely well and the students are showing benefit from their parents being more involved in their schoolwork.
The children at feel a sense of community within the building. The teacher’s encourage the students to get along and develop their reading skills. (Reading has been the focus over the last two years.) This is accomplished through integrating reading and the accelerated reading program. Teachers have weekly meetings within their grade level and once a month all the teachers meet to discuss concerns problems and accomplishments. These meetings have become more successful as time has passed. This program has been in implementation for three consecutive years and the teachers are getting used to how it works. The students are reaping the rewards.
As a specialist teacher, we have weekly meetings with the other specialist teachers. We have not been involved in the reading program except for developing a “word wall” in each of our rooms for the vocabulary we use within our rooms. Next year, the specialists will be involved in a reading block. I feel this will help the students to see that all areas of study are concerned with reading.
I feel the biggest problem is the racism shown by the parents of our students. The teachers are well versed in the area of diversity and have grown in not looking at our students in color but in abilities. When a student has a problem, they are looked at for the problem, not their color. When the parents come in, approximately 40% feel their students are being picked on because of their color.
The school has two black administrators and I am white. To me, there is no difference in our administrative abilities. I recall one incident where a white father had the police called on him for threatening our principal. He believed that his son was unfairly treated and that his behavior should be overlooked. He called our principal many things and then came after her. To make a long story short, his son is one of the worst behavioral problems I have ever seen. I ended up dealing with him and the racist portion of his personality was very evident. Then, it went the opposite way. A black student quietly was harassing the girls (both black and white). After a white teacher finally heard him do this, he was sent to the office. His mother was called and I was asked to handle the problem. Racism was the topic of the conversation on the mother’s part. Our principal finally had to handle this.
I have a hard time understanding why parents want to blame teachers or other students in the first place. Then, I have a very difficult time with the racism issue. The parents show these children how not to be. How do teachers turn that around and get the students to be open-minded adults.
Within Ordinary Resurrections, you did not see this problem. The school climate was basically black with very few white children attending. But, the community at Mott Haven did not allow for racism.
Looking at the requisites of a leader, Mother Martha uses her capacity to build community, culture and climate of the learning system to amplify the poor educational tools and low funding per student. By leveraging human resources (which amounts to the parents and guardians), volunteers help to run the after school program and tutor throughout the day. The capacity to apply profound knowledge of teaching and learning was apparent throughout the book. The teachers and the administration of the school brought everyday life situations into the classroom. The entire staff was very aware of the students’ background and even used after school programs to help the students achieve. The capacity to develop personal and systemic direction was evident with Mother Martha’s abilities. She presented herself as a dynamic individual with the power to move her entire clergy with her words. Her actions promoted self-reliance and self-esteem not only in herself but also in all the people around her. The capacity to ensure accountability and improvement in the system was dealt with daily. The students did all the normal testing but had tests within grades to see if they had learned enough to be passed on to the next grade. Daily, individuals worked with the students to help improve their knowledge. Mother Martha went to many meetings to try and get more funding for the school and more volunteers. The school would not have made it without those individuals willing to share their time.
Using these requisites is an essential key to performing the administrative task ahead. Taking these requisites and the power of the personality profile, the information obtained within “Ordinary Resurrections” will help my success as an administrative leader.
I found Ordinary Resurrection as an informative inner city account of children who live in poverty. The elementary school by no means, is as deprived as Mott Haven appeared to be. I have seen many things while working that show poverty with our students, but after reading this book I feel I only have a vague understanding of the trials and tribulations that children of poverty go through. Kozol’s accounts have given me more insight into the situations administrators may go through in a low socio-economic neighborhood.
Within my Educational Leadership program, we have learned many things about students, teachers, and the community. The videos I have watched over the last six weeks has given me a greater depth to the development of a child and the importance of family that I have taken for granted. I have looked at my own children and asked did I put them at-risk to not succeed.
The wisdom gained from the reading of “Ordinary Resurrections” will follow me in whatever position I will take. I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to anyone who does not fully understand the depth that poverty has on the young.
Kozol, J. (2000). Ordinary Resurrections – Children in the Years of Hope. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.