I’m a teacher at Santa Monica College and a candidate for City Council. There’s a lot at stake this election, especially when it comes to schools. Well, this week one of my students taught me a lesson I think everyone can learn from.
SMC has cut its winter session. Many students, who had to scramble to get into a shrinking number of fall classes, will now have to wait even longer if they hope to graduate someday. The cuts will go deeper if voters don’t approve Prop 30.
But the real story involves “Joe.” He’s creative and bright with a ton of potential. The first two weeks he showed the spark of a student you know can succeed. When he didn’t show up for class last week, I wondered why.
I got my answer the next night while at the Main Downtown Library. I caught a glimpse of Joe heading out a side door. He looked awful, really bad, and when he saw me, a little embarrassed as well. “Sorry I missed class”, he told me. “I may have to drop out of school.” He said one of his grants had fallen through. I told him to hang in there and give it some time, that something good might happen. He walked away and I wondered if I’d ever see him again.
Later, it hit me. He’s homeless. He was probably using a library computer to do homework, or maybe even doing it on a bench under a streetlight somewhere. The thought stuck with me for days.
Then Saturday night I was driving down Broadway and I saw him again. I pulled over and just asked him, “Joe, are you homeless?” He said yes, but he had good news. The grant had gone through and he might be able to keep a couple of classes. But I could see he still had the look of a guy who felt like the deck was stacked against him.
I said, “Joe, whatever you do, don’t drop all your classes. No matter what else is going on in your life, if you can keep even one class going, you’re still moving forward.” He said, “I’m thinking maybe I can keep your class and another one.” I said, “Great! I graded your homework and it will be waiting for you next Tuesday.” He smiled and said, “I’ll see you in class”, and walked off up the street.
I really hope he shows up. And I hope YOU do, too. I hope you show up Tuesday, November 6, and vote “Yes” on Prop 30. Because if a student who’s homeless can fight to stay in school, the least we can do is pay a little more so our schools are worth fighting for.
John C. Smith