39: Beyond the Classroom

39: Beyond the Classroom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Beyond the Classroom

We were born to unite with our fellow men, and to join in community with the human race.

~Cicero

Mark was a great kid from a bad neighborhood. A scholarship fund provided his tuition to Catholic High, where he contributed — and not in a small way — to the sports program. On the football field he showed considerable talent, running the ball past the opposition and even jumping a mound of fellow players to make the touchdown. But it was a mound of a different sort that showcased Mark’s greatest talent — he was a pitcher. In his junior year, scouts from pro teams lined the bleachers right alongside the college coaches. His 85–95 mile-an-hour pitches and excellent strikeout stats made him a much sought-after recruit.

But Mark struggled in the classroom. He was plenty bright, just behind, perhaps due to a difficult home environment. Mark’s mom died from a drug overdose while he was in high school. I remember the funeral and watching Mark cry as he hung his head over the casket. He moved in with an elderly grandmother.

The area where Mark’s grandmother lived was dangerous, and he was soon the victim of a drive-by shooting. The school community jumped to his aid, working behind the scenes almost immediately. While the ambulance sped away, a student’s dad who was a surgeon accepted Mark as his patient. He met the ambulance at the hospital and whisked Mark away to surgery, removing the bullet and making arrangements for physical therapy. Another family — whose son Kevin also attended Catholic High and played sports — fixed up a bedroom for Mark. Kevin and Mark became best friends, and Kevin’s dad took a personal interest in Mark, even attending his parent/teacher conferences.

I met Mark in my resource room. At first, his teachers sent practice sets and homework for me to help him complete. When I had a better idea of his needs, I began remedial tutoring so that we could address the gaps in his education. Despite the attention from pro scouts, Mark wanted to attend college. The interest from several universities was high, but Mark’s scores on his college entrance exams were low. He needed to improve his ACT score.

Several teachers discussed Mark’s needs. We agreed that he required help far beyond what we could offer him within the time constraints of our class periods. After-school tutoring wasn’t possible because of football and baseball practice. Some felt Mark should give up sports and concentrate on schooling. But his opportunity to attend college was linked to sports, so to miss practice would have been counterproductive. One of my fellow teachers, Mrs. Banks, offered to tutor Mark in math at her home. I scheduled Mark to come to my house for all the other areas of the ACT. No one paid us. Mrs. Banks summed it up this way: “Payday doesn’t always come on Monday.”

When we were not working with Mark to improve his skills for the ACT, the coach and Kevin’s dad took him to various colleges to talk with both baseball and football program coaches. He settled on the college that offered him scholarships to play both sports. As you might expect, we were all elated, but a little concerned. If Mark did not score the minimum required by that university, he could not attend, no matter how talented he was. The day came for Mark to take the ACT. I picked him up and took him for breakfast, and then delivered Mark to the testing center along with pencils, candy bars, and apples supplied by his other teachers.

It takes weeks to receive the results. But then, one afternoon after school, I heard quite a commotion in the hallway. Mark burst through my door, lifted me out of my chair, spun me around, and jubilantly shouted, “I’m going to college! I’m going to college! I’m going to college!”

“I guess you got your score?” I asked, once he set me down.

“Well, YEAH!” he laughed. “And guess what? It is one point more than I need to be accepted. One point extra! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now, where’s Mrs. Banks? I’ve got to tell her, too!” And he was off and running again.

Until that moment, I had never quite understood the meaning of “Payday doesn’t always come on Monday.” But the meaning became clear the instant Mark ran into the room to announce his news. No amount of money could ever replace my spin in the air at the hands of a boy who finally had a chance at a better life.

~Eloise Elaine Ernst Schneider

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