I signed up for the lunchtime Big Sisters program in Camden. I visit a 3rd grade student once per week at lunchtime. For me this activity serves multiple purposes. I am in solidarity with the 100,000 of Kansas City http://be1kc.org/, I get to hang out with kids which I was really missing and these kids are fantastic!, and I get to experience a public school in my city and see just how things really are for kids.
This school, by virtue of being in Camden, is all children who are African-American, Latino, and a rainbow of others. I occasionally see an Anglo kid. They wear uniforms that vary by grade. My lil' sis wears a light blue polo with navy pants or tan pants. She loves to accessorize with jewelry or on days like today, a turtleneck underneath the polo. Adorable. If they want to (and can afford it) there is a fancy uniform pinafore to wear. The kids are eager to talk and hang out and they enjoy meeting new people. They all talk about their families at home and extended families. It's great.
What I hate is the chaos of the school. I meet my sis in the lunchroom which is a converted gym. The acoustics add to the din. The teachers get exasperated with the children and start yelling. As the din grows louder, the teacher just shouts louder. You can guess the rest. The kids have 55 minutes to get from their class, to the lunchroom, get food, eat, have recess, and get back to class. It doesn't work real well. Fights erupt, kids are crying, security is bringing kids in from the playground, and using the lunchroom as a time out spot where the offenders and victims are shouting to their friends about who did what. Meanwhile, I'm trying to connect with my sis and her chums. We would have gone to the guidance room as we are supposed to, but it was locked and no one was there. Sigh. But she is a joy and brings a lot of sunshine to my day and week. Camden is bleak. But the kids are a bright spot. I try to keep that thought when I get weary dealing with crazy adults.