With a graduation rate in the US hovering at 50%, getting every kid to graduate from high school should be our #1 prority. Alex wasn’t a student of mine but he took precalculus in my classroom during my off period. Because our school is a small school, classrooms are shared. One day, Alex asked to use my computer to work on his credit recovery for the Algebra 2 class he had failed the year before. I let him use it, and sat with him as he worked on the problems. I taught Algebra 2 that year so it seemed only natural I help him. Alex needed to get through just this one course to graduate high school.
Before I knew it, I was helping Alex every day during my off period, and when the school year began to wear down, Alex began staying in my room all day working to get through the program. The program was difficult; much of the material isn’t covered in the Boston Algebra 2 curriculum. It started to become clear that Alex was exceptionally smart, but the program involved a lot of difficult work that would give even m top Algebra 2 students difficulty.
On Thursday June 3, 2010, Alex and I stayed at school until 10:30 PM when the custodian politely asked us when we’d be leaving. The credit recovery program deadline was at midnight and we weren’t going to be done. We were on section 10.5 and had to get to 11.11, and it was clear there wasn’t’ enough time. Alex was devastated. I was devastated. After all that time, we were defeated. Worst of all, there were errors in the program that had wrong answers as correct answers and not achieving a 75% or better on each mini quiz (there were approximately 20 in each section) meant we couldn’t move on to the next subsection.
The next day was field day. As I was waiting in my classroom for our bus to come, the director of credit recovery came to tell me he’d give Alex another day because he had gotten so far in the program. He had been given another chance! WE had been given another chance! Hard work does pay off! I called the phone number I found in the office fir Alex and told him to come in immediately to continue working.
Because I wasn’t allowed to stay behind from the field day trip, I asked another teacher to work with Alex. Alex began working again at 9AM. When I returned from field day at 1:30, Alex had gotten through just one more subsection. I was so exhausted from staying so late the night before, from field day, and just from a week of work in general, that the thought of staying late on a Friday almost brought me to tears. Still, we had to take the chance. I had to be there for Alex. He was so close to graduating that I couldn’t give up. We worked from 1:30PM to 5PM and got to section 11.5 when we ran into the advanced probability questions. Probability has never been strength of mine. I can do problems that involve using formulas, but these problems were less “marbles in a bag” or even “out of 10 people, you need to choose a president, vp, and secretary” and more “If Monty Hall opens one of the doors with a goat…” We were on section 11.5, we needed to get to 11.11, and we were stuck. I was stuck. I felt like a failure. We had been given another chance and it seemed we were defeated again. Alex wasn’t going to graduate because I couldn’t grasp that the Monty Hall probability is 2/3.
I couldn’t imagine what Alex’s weekend looked like. If I felt defeated, he must have felt devastated. If I felt frustrated, he must have felt destroyed. To get that close and have it count for nothing.
Then came Monday June 7, 2010, two day before graduating seniors were scheduled to sign out of high school forever. I was concentrating on final exam review for my juniors when the credit recovery director came back in. He has overridden the last half of chapter 11 so that Alex could take the final exam. I immediately called the phone number I had for Alex and left a message for him to come in. I had assumed Alex wasn’t in school, but he was. Maybe Alex had ore hope that I did. About 3 hours after seeing the director of credit recovery, Alex was at my door. He took the final exam. He was graduating. I called his mom to let her know, as I promised I would. I had never heard a parent so excited. It was then that it was reaffirmed in my mind and heart that hard work, as painful as it often is, always pays off. Thanks Alex.
UPDATE: Alex was shot and killed on September 3, 2011 on his way to a barber shop in Boston.