As I entered the second-grade classroom there was a strong smell of urine. The windows were closed, and there was a board over the glass pane in the door. The teacher yelled at a child from her desk, “I’m going to get rid of you!” Some children were copying spelling words from the board. Several of them jumped up and down in their seats. Most were not doing their work; many were leaning back in their chairs, chatting or fussing.
The children noticed my arrival and looked at me expectantly; I greeted them and turned to the teacher, commenting on the broken pane of glass in the door. She came over from the desk and said, “Jonathan put his hand through the window yesterday—his father passed him on the street and wouldn’t say hello. Jonathan used to live with him, but since he started living with his mother, the father ignores him.”
“These kids have hard lives, don’t they,” I said. At that, she began a litany of the troubles of the children in her class: Derrick’s father died of AIDS last week; one uncle had already died of AIDS and another was sick. One girl’s father stole her money for drugs. On Monday a boy had been brought to school by his mother, who said that the boy had been raped by a male cousin on Thursday, but that “he was over it now.” The teacher was trying to get the boy some counseling. Two boys were caught shaving chalk and “snorting” the dust. One boy had a puffy eye because his mother got drunk after she got laid off and beat up the kids while they were sleeping; last night he had hit her back, while she was sleeping.
At this point, I interrupted the teacher to say, “It’s really stuffy in here. Why don’t you open a window?” “I can’t,” she replied, “because I have some children [points to a tiny girl] who like to jump out of school windows.”
This chapter describes a ghetto school located in Newark, New Jersey. 1 In this city with a substantial homeless population, the school system had at the time of my research (1991-1993) few provisions for its homeless students. McKinney Act money provided funds for an after-school program for 2 years in two schools. Marcy School, the site of my research, was designated The Magnet School for the Homeless on the grant application for McKinney Act funding. This chapter summarizes characteristics of the school milieu and discusses the history of the city in order to document the political and economic trends and decisions that led to the present situation. Marcy School illustrates the central point that children who are homeless experience what most poor children in America experience: slipshod, sometimes abusive education.