Friday, March 11, 2011

A Visit to the Park

by Jan Shoop
I was sitting at my desk when Tori Okuda, one of the high school teachers, walked in my door. She said, “Rico is in the park playing basketball and not at school. All the kids in my class are looking out the door at him.”

The high school classrooms face south toward the park. The park can be a pretty scary place. It’s not the typical park with swings and children playing. It’s a park where the homeless sleep and gangs meet and occasionally fight, and it’s right across the street from the school.

The high school classrooms have two doors; one that faces south toward the park and one that faces north into the school courtyard. When the weather is nice, which it was that day, the teachers open the doors to let in the sunshine.

I walked out of my office into the hall. From where I stood I could look across the street to the park and the basketball courts. I could see several boys playing ball.

Rico was a tough student. He had had a rough time before coming to StarShine and was just starting to come around and feel successful. I didn’t want to lose him nor let him think that basketball with friends should take priority over school.

So I said to Ms. Okuda, “I’ll be right back.” I turned around, walked down the hallway, out the gate, across the parking lot, across the street and into the park. I got about halfway into the park and thought this probably isn’t such a great idea. I mean, being the school principal and walking through the park was probably not the smartest thing I had ever done. I took a deep breathe and thought, oh well, I’m here now, I’ll keep going.

I got pretty close to the basketball court and could see Rico playing ball. By now some of the homeless and other assorted park visitors were staring at me. I stopped and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Rico, get over here!” He was just about to throw a basket, but stopped in midair and turned to look at me. I just stood there with my hands on my hips giving him the “mom” look. Now I’m not a very big person. I’m about 5’5” and I’m pretty slender. So it must have been a pretty funny sight, because Rico was close to 6’ and outweighed me by 100 pounds or so. He threw the basketball to one of the other guys on the court and started to walk over.

When Rico got in front of me, I said, “Rico, what are you doing? You need to be in school!” Rico put his head down, shuffled his feet and said, “I need to play this game, Miss.” “Why?” I asked him. “Because I need the money,” said Rico. I just stood there looking up at him. Rico continued, “Miss, it’s a pick-up game. And I need the money.” I sighed and shook my head. I knew that Rico’s family was very poor and he probably did need the money. At least he was not out selling drugs or stealing cars. So I said, “OK, here’s the deal. You can finish the game. But, you’ve got 30 minutes and you better be back at the school by then.” Rico agreed and headed back to the game.

 I turned around and headed back to school. I crossed the park, crossed the parking lot and walked through the gate into the school. I got about halfway down the hallway when Miss Okuda came running out of her classroom with a big smile on her face. She said all the students in her class were watching out the door when I went across the street. They couldn’t believe I went into the park. The students had all gotten up from their seats and were crowded around the door watching my conversation with Rico. They were in shock and kept saying, “Ms. Shoop just went into the park!” Ms. Okuda was all smiles. She said, “You are never going to have trouble with any of the high school students again. They all think you’re superwoman because you went into the park.” I laughed and went back to my office.

About 30 minutes later I looked up and saw Rico heading for class. Rico turned himself around and became an outstanding student -- and I never had to go into the park to get him again or any other student for that matter.

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