Walls of Rock and the Dreaded SRA

I see the journey, the path that I have taken like the wake of a great ship.

I had no idea of the things I would need to adjust to, having taken them for granted all of my life. For example, if you cannot see then putting toothpaste on a toothbrush or working a microwave become challenging. At least once a week I make a meal and fix a plate of food. I fix myself a drink of something and then I have to find my plate again. This is more challenging than you might think.

School brought many interesting things, good and bad. When I entered the first grade I did not know the alphabet, could barely count to ten. It was the school’s responsibility to teach me these things. Kindergarten was not required and I did not attend. I loved my elementary school. I might not have had many friends but I loved every one of my teachers. I was smart, really smart and I knew this right away. By the end of the second grade I had fallen so in love with reading that I had read not only all of the second grade books but the third grade as well. Reading was a joy.

By the middle of the third grade things were changing at home. My mom was working. I did not know just what a struggle money was until years later when my mom told me. We seemed okay though and then my parents announced that we were moving to a nearby community Hurst, Texas. It was a move of about five miles. We were moving to a neighborhood still under construction to a bigger nicer house. Naturally I had some concerns. Making friends was not easy for me and a new school meant new friends, another place I would not fit in or belong. Still there was also hope that everything could change for the better.

I was lucky in the sense that my parents let me finish third grade at my old elementary and that I met a friend in the neighborhood that had my back. Whether he was just kind, or that he realized my limitations I don’t know but I was thankful David was my friend. Hurst Hills Elementary was a different story. I had come from a traditional elementary where you went to a classroom and the teacher taught you everything. If you needed help with something you went to the teacher’s desk and got help. Hurst Hills was an open concept elementary. It was built like a giant stop sign and the external walls looked like someone had thrown a million rocks into wet cement. Inside there were few walls. There were three classes of fourth grade, three for fifth and three for sixth. There were no walls between any classes so you could see the sixth grade classes from the fourth grade side. It was competitive in everything and you moved from section to section depending on your level. The concept meant that if you were a fast reader you were not held up by slower readers. It was also the first time I had a physical education teacher and she too was competitive. She picked the best athletes and made them captains and they picked the rest of the kids. Gee guess where I was picked. It set me apart, made me someone who could be made fun of, someone to tease. There was also the new element that came to my attention. Boys were now aware of girls and vice versa. I could see that survival in this area was dependent on being a winner; being good at things and I was small, red headed with freckles pale skin and a terrible athlete. My life was hell.

It also became clear to me from day one that testing me to see what level I was supposed to be in was not in the cards. They just assumed I was stupid and I was placed in the lowest group in every subject. Complaining to my parents was not an option. It would have been seen as being a trouble maker. which brings me to the dreaded SRA. The SRA was the preferred reading task technique, skill whatever that the teachers used. There was not really a lot of teaching going on. They sat your ass in front of a machine that was set for your level and you read the words a they went across the screen, When the story was over you took a short test to show that you comprehended. If you struggled they just moved you to a lower level. I don’t know what level they started me on but it may have been one or maybe zero. The words literally crept across the page one three letter word at a time.. So I repeatedly asked the teacher to make it go faster but you had to complete the level and since I was maybe the dumbest human being on the planet I should go back and not create waves. I don’t know how long I endured this. Looking back it felt like weeks but it must have been maybe two weeks tops before I refused to participate any longer. I knew I was risking the wrath of my parents but I literally refused to move from my desk for reading.  Rather than talking to me they sent me to Mr. Thayer, the Vice Principal, a man who I revere to this day

Mr. Thayer was prepared to rip into me, give me licks even. Yes there was still corporal punishment. I was crying and terribly frustrated and he sensed there was a much greater issue than just a kid acting up. He consoled me. He was kind and he grasped my concern looked at my records which I assumed meant all my report cards from my old school and then escorted me back to class where he had a long discussion with the teacher. They put me in front of the SRA machine and increased the level, increased the story line from Tip stories to something a lot more interesting . It was pretty clear that it made me happy and that I was reading way beyond fourth grade. I don’t recall an apology from the teachers but I went from the lowest level in every subject to the highest and at last school was fun again.I  would learn later that the really smart people were also made fun of so while it helped me in elementary until I went to college I learned the fine art of not being too smart, not standing out so that I could disappear which is what I wanted more than anything. I wanted whatever would get me teased the least, disliked the least. It would be a long time before I felt a school administrator or teacher or counselor would really care about me.

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