Among Schoolchildren | Study Guide

Tracy Kidder

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Among Schoolchildren | Symbols


The Kelly School

The Kelly School where Chris Zajac teaches is a symbol of hope in the midst of devastation. The Kelly School sits on the edge of the Flats, the most impoverished region in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Zajac views her school as "the phoenix rising out of the ashes of the Flats" because she views education as the key to stopping the cycle of poverty that many students are facing. Most of the Kelly School's students live in the Flats and are children of Puerto Rican immigrants. Zajac views her work as a teacher at Kelly School as pivotal because education is one of the only things that can change the course of a child's future. Many of her students don't have parental support at home and the Kelly School is the main place those students eat and receive adult attention. Zajac believes the best thing a student can learn at Kelly School is their value. She believes that if a student knows their value, they are more likely to succeed academically and in life.

The Science Fair

The science fair is an event that is intended to demonstrate a student's knowledge on a particular science topic. However, Chris Zajac views the science fair as a "rigged election" because the outcome is already determined by a child's circumstance. The students whose parents accompany them to the science fair have stellar projects, while the students without parents in attendance have basic and often failing projects. Zajac doesn't think it's fair to grade a student based on whether or not they have parents who help them complete the project. For Zajac the science fair represents the link between student success and parental support. In her many years teaching, she's noticed a direct correlation between how well a student does in the classroom and how much support they have at home. Her two most difficult students are Clarence and Robert. Both boys live with single mothers who aren't present in their lives. Her two best students are Alice and Judith and both girls have present parents at home. Zajac views the student's ability to create a meaningful project at the science fair as correlating to life more generally. Zajac believes that if a student has a present parent at home they are more likely to have a meaningful life beyond school. Zajac fears if they don't have present parents at home they will perpetuate the cycles of neglect that their parents have created.

The Basal Readers

The basal readers that Chris Zajac is forced to use in her classroom during reading lessons represent the traditional curriculum system. The basal readers were given to her by the school and are supposed to easily teach reading to every level of reader. However, Zajac finds the basal readers to lack creativity and she knows that many of her students find them boring. Zajac likes to deviate from the basal readers, especially during her novel-reading time. During this time she reads the students exciting stories that grab and keep their attention. The basal readers represent the school system's attempts to standardize the teaching process, while Zajac desires to make the learning process relevant and exciting for the students. She knows that relevancy and excitement keeps the attention of students who will otherwise fall asleep or lose interest.

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