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The Street Stops Here

The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem

Patrick J. McCloskey
Foreword by Samuel G. Freedman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    The Street Stops Here
    Book Description:

    The Street Stops Hereoffers a deeply personal and compelling account of a Catholic high school in central Harlem, where mostly disadvantaged (and often non-Catholic) African American males graduate on time and get into college. Interweaving vivid portraits of day-to-day school life with clear and evenhanded analysis, Patrick J. McCloskey takes us through an eventful year at Rice High School, as staff, students, and families make heroic efforts to prevail against society's expectations. McCloskey's riveting narrative brings into sharp relief an urgent public policy question: whether (and how) to save these schools that provide the only viable option for thousands of poor and working-class students-and thus fulfill a crucial public mandate. Just as significantly,The Street Stops Hereoffers invaluable lessons for low-performing urban public schools.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94208-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Samuel G. Freedman

    WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER more than thirty years ago, an especially intense rivalry developed between two high school basketball teams in my corner of New Jersey. One was from St. Peter’s, a Catholic school in New Brunswick; the other was from the public school in Perth Amboy. Because the teams played in different leagues, and because they perennially dominated that competition, St. Peter’s and Perth Amboy met only in the heightened atmosphere of county or state tournaments. Though I went to neither school, I can still vividly remember listening to one typical cliffhanger of game on the local AM...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    THE MOST URGENT PROBLEM in American education today is the high dropout rate and low achievement of inner-city minority students. Tragically, this is also the most persistent problem. Despite the civil rights gains in the decades since Dr. King articulated the “dream,” many disadvantaged African Americans and Hispanics have remained trapped in cycles of poverty, dysfunction, and despair, primarily because of academic failure. At the same time, the research shows that Catholic schools have become the saving grace for hundreds of thousands of the same inner-city students who fare poorly in the public system. Since the Catholic school model is...

  6. Chapter One
    (pp. 13-24)

    IN 1985 ORLANDO R. GOBER was the principal at St. Mark’s, a Lutheran elementary school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, one of New York City’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods. He was the school’s first African American principal and, at thirty-one years of age, the youngest Lutheran principal in the metropolitan area—a distinction he’d held since 1977, when he became the youngest principal at any school, public or private, in New York City.

    Every fall, Orlando organized class trips to give his mostly African American youngsters a memorable experience in nature. That year, he took forty-five fourth graders and their teachers...

  7. Chapter Two
    (pp. 25-42)

    THE NEXT MORNING, THURSDAY, September 9, Brother J. Matthew Walderman gives the first talk at the orientation for returning students. As Rice’s president, Brother Walderman’s duties include fund-raising and budgeting, and he represents the school at official functions in Harlem and the archdiocese. In contrast to Orlando, he always prepares his remarks as a formal speech, and delivers virtually the same homily as he did yesterday to the new students at their orientation.

    Needing no amplification, Brother Walderman moves the microphone stand aside and welcomes 203 upperclassmen back to Rice. They’ve all gotten to know him despite the fact that...

  8. Chapter Three
    (pp. 43-56)

    ON THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS, Monday, September 13, Christopher M. Abbasse stands at the top of the flight of stairs that lead from Rice’s front door up to the foyer. As Rice’s current dean of students, Abbasse fulfills his duties with enough strictness to establish that he is firmly in charge of behavioral standards from the first minute of the school year.

    Every morning, Abbasse greets the students to “make sure they’re dressed properly and to set a business-like tone for the day,” he explains. “Otherwise they’ll shuffle into cafeteria all disheveled, listening to their headphones, and talking on...

  9. Chapter Four
    (pp. 57-66)

    A FEW MINUTES AFTER THE sixth period begins on Wednesday, September 15, Orlando leaves his office and heads for the elevator. Usually he tours the school once a day, but he’s been too busy so far. Anxious to see how the first week of school is unfolding, Orlando debarks on the seventh floor, then shuffles down the green-tiled hallway toward Winsom Rene-Campbell’s freshman global studies classroom.

    As Orlando approaches her open door, he realizes that the students have already figured out that this is her first year of teaching. Last year, she felt calling to become a teacher and switched...

  10. Chapter Five
    (pp. 67-73)

    AFTER THE LAST CLASS ENDS at 2:20 P.M., several dozen upperclassmen stop by Orlando’s office to say goodbye or discuss a problem. An hour later, the day decelerates, allowing Orlando to sit at his computer and finish a letter to parents. Five minutes later, Dwayne Carter, a senior, slips through the door that was left slightly ajar on purpose. Some students make appointments to discuss personal problems, but often they just drift in at this hour needing his undivided attention.

    “What’s up, Mr. Gober?” Dwayne asks. His hands are buried deep inside his front pockets. Dwayne lives nearby and went...

  11. Chapter Six
    (pp. 74-93)

    THE NEXT MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, Abbasse tells Orlando about the theft of a pair of sneakers from a book bag during one of Dr. Zachariah Saad’s ninth-grade Earth science classes. Orlando sinks into the chair at his desk, as a righteous anger begins to roil. This is the third similar incident since the school year began. Certainly, the N-word is blasphemy in Orlando’s world, but theft, which undermines the trust that girds a positive school culture, attains the rank of unforgivable sin.

    At the end of the day, Orlando calls the students from the Earth science class to the cafeteria...

  12. Chapter Seven
    (pp. 94-110)

    FROM THE FIRST DAY, Rice’s teachers have been implementing Orlando’s pedagogical goals for the school year.

    “We’re going to go over some rules and procedures again,” Kate Hebinck addresses her first-period freshman English class on Friday, September 17. “When you come in, you sit down, look on the blackboard for a note under ‘Agenda’ and begin to work quietly.”

    For three days at the August teacher orientation, Orlando preached a gospel of uniform behavioral expectations for all students in all classes. To accomplish this, he demanded that during every period for the entire first week of school, teachers instruct the...

  13. Chapter Eight
    (pp. 111-125)

    THE GIRLS LINE UP FOUR deep from Rice’s front door around the corner and down Lenox Avenue to 123rd Street. It is 7:45 P.M. on Saturday, October 2, and the first Rice Jam is jammed. Many more teenage girls are queuing up than can be accommodated. Edgardo (Ed) Marrero, Rice’s public relations officer, stands on the front steps with a bullhorn, as beads of sweat dapple his fleshy face. He says that two thousand young women surround the building, and imagines a riot. Already the cafeteria is threequarters full, and Orlando will halt admission as soon as the room reaches...

  14. Chapter Nine
    (pp. 126-139)

    “I’M A FIRM BELIEVER THAT we can find answers to all our problems in the Bible,” said Kim Davis, the juniors’ guidance counselor, to the eleventh graders. Like all the counselors, Davis has at least one ESP class a week with his students, during which he leads discussions about issues affecting their personal lives and academic careers.

    It’s Tuesday afternoon, October 12, ten days after the Rice Jam, which Davis missed to attend his own wedding. On the following Monday, heard graphic descriptions of the event from several teachers and was appalled. The behavior of Rice students contrasted starkly with...

  15. Chapter Ten
    (pp. 140-158)

    AT 7:40 A.M. FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22, Orlando walks toward the cafeteria start the day right with breakfast. He crosses paths with Dwayne Carter, whom he expelled last week after the senior talked back impolitely again a teacher in class. Normally the incident would have drawn a suspension, given the number of detentions Dwayne already had accumulated, but Abbasse decided on “shock therapy” and recommended he leave.

    “Kids used to say, ‘I’ve got your back’ and the teacher or principal knew that trust had been established and the student would do anything for you,” Orlando says later, explaining his decision. “Every...

  16. Chapter Eleven
    (pp. 159-169)

    ORLANDO STRIDES INTO HIS FIRST-PERIOD English class twelve minutes late on Wednesday, October 27. He was delayed by a meeting with a parent about her son’s behavioral problems. The mother arrived at 7:30 A.M. intending to bully the principal into siding with her against Abbasse, who she feels is being too hard on her first-born. Forty minutes later—after one of Orlando’s passionate sermons on personal responsibility and high standards—the woman slid quietly out of his office. She resolved to deal directly with Abbasse next time.

    Orlando passes under the ebony crucifix above the blackboard wearing a suit the...

  17. Chapter Twelve
    (pp. 170-177)

    KATE HEBINCK LEAVES THE FACULTY meeting and follows the other ninthgrade teachers down the hall into Tim Hearn’s classroom with a dour expression on her face. It seems that the day will never end, and tomorrow, Thursday, October 28, she’ll have to endure parent-teacher conferences until 8 P.M. Hebinck sits at a desk to the side and lays down the failure list without glancing at the names; she put the majority there and feels guilty for showing little improvement from last year’s freshman class. The ninth graders account for half the failing grades overall and 60 percent of the students...

  18. Chapter Thirteen
    (pp. 178-187)

    ON THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, Orlando stands in Brother DePiro’s doorway ready to commandeer the last half of his third-period religion class. The principal approached Brother DePiro yesterday about wanting to talk to the seniors. Brother didn’t complain about the loss class time. He has been trying to give the seniors a sense of Church history and Catholic teachings before they graduate, but is becoming very frustrated.

    “In the ninth grade, you covered the Old Testament and in the tenth, you studied the gospels,” Brother DePiro told them in the first week of school. “Last year, you were introduced...

  19. Chapter Fourteen
    (pp. 188-214)

    ORLANDO’S EYES OPEN AS A wet wind rattles his bedroom window on the following Monday, November 8. At exactly 6:00 A.M., he picks up the phone and dials.

    “Are you up?” Orlando asks and sits on the edge of his bed half an hour before sunrise.

    “Yeah,” Yusef Abednego, a sophomore, grunts softly. “Okay, dad, see you at school.”

    Half an hour later, Yusef knots his dark green tie as he walks down the dark hallway of his first floor apartment. The bare wooden floors are worn beyond memory of varnish and list toward the early decades of the twentieth...

    (pp. None)
  21. Chapter Fifteen
    (pp. 215-223)

    “I’M SETTING UP A MEETING with St. John’s, Fordham, Manhattan, and Iona about sending student teachers to Rice and helping us recruit their graduates,” Orlando informs Brother Walderman. Given Rice’s fragile nancial situation and, in Orlando’s view, lack of a comprehensive strategy, negotiating with education schools at local Catholic colleges and universities is a practical way to offer a wider range of courses and improve teacher quality.

    Brother Walderman nods his head as he drives the Brothers’ new Saturn across the George Washington Bridge. It’s 9:30 A.M. on Friday, December 3, and Rice’s president and principal are traveling to Baltimore...

  22. Chapter Sixteen
    (pp. 224-233)

    AFTER THE XAVIER UNIVERSITY REPRESENTATIVE finishes his presentation, Butler passes out a summary sheet fromCHS 2000: A First Look,a quantitative report on Catholic high schools. The data indicates that the majority of Catholic high schools are just beginning to confront their fiscal issues. Butler then initiates a discussion about financial solvency.

    “Ninety percent of the schools now have a development office and 72 percent have started planned-gift programs, which suggests some maturity,” Butler reads aloud. “Unfortunately we haven’t started, but I’ve been nudging in that direction.”

    A few moments later, Butler adds that “over a third of Catholic...

  23. Chapter Seventeen
    (pp. 234-252)

    THOMAS JEFFERSON BEST ARTICULATED THE role of education in when he wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”¹ By the turn of the nineteenth century, virtually everyone, other than slaves, was literate without spending years in the classroom. Most children, including the few Catholics in the country, learned to read at home and soon consumed difficult texts that today are reserved for the last years of secondary school or college. Early America is replete with stories of astonishing success in all fields by individuals such...

  24. Chapter Eighteen
    (pp. 253-260)

    ORLANDO SITS IN HIS OFFICE AT 6 P.M. on Tuesday, January 18, preparing his mid-year teacher evaluations, which he’ll present to them one-focusing on how best to deal with ongoing problems. Orlando schedules Kate Hebinck’s evaluation for two weeks from today. He’s worried that she might leave Rice out of frustration at the disruptive behavior and inconsistent work ethic still characterizing her freshman classes. She hasn’t told Orlando or any of the teachers about her tentative plans to go to France with her fiancé next year, but he intuits that she’s leaning that way.

    Orlando appreciates how much responsibility Hebinck...

  25. Chapter Nineteen
    (pp. 261-270)

    MEMBERS OF THE JUNIOR VARSITY basketball team drop by Orlando’s fice after practice to chat a few minutes before going home on Monday January 31. Missing among them is Yusef, who quit the team weeks ago after a difficult month at Rice.

    In the middle of December, Yusef stood in Orlando’s doorway after class with his head hung low.

    “Did you hear what happened?” he muttered.

    “Yes,” Orlando replied, pleased that Yusef owned up to his mistake lunch.

    “Are you upset with me?” Yusef buried his chin in his chest.

    “ Why would you think that?”

    Yusef stood rigid for...

  26. Chapter Twenty
    (pp. 271-283)

    “HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?” Orlando exclaims as he reads morning newspaper in his office on Monday, February 28. This question has been roiling through his entire spirit since Friday when the verdict came down: not guilty. The four white police officers who fired forty-one shots at Amadou Diallo, the African immigrant who reached for his wallet in darkened hallway a year ago—hitting him nineteen times—were cleared all criminal charges.

    Orlando throws his copy of theDaily Newsinto the trash, disgusted that members of the multiracial jury in Albany, where the trial was moved to an objective...

  27. Chapter Twenty-one
    (pp. 284-290)

    SINCE MID-FEBRUARY, ORLANDO’S MOST ACTIVE and interesting political forums have been held in his English classes. For Black History Month through March, Orlando is conducting seminars on the civil rights movement, instead of preparing his juniors for the English Regents exam. He considers the history of race in America to be far more important than graduation requirements or the SAT. As much as he desires the prestige that higher scores would bring him and the school, Orlando chooses to take considerable class time away from vocabulary building, reading comprehension, and so on.

    Today is Wednesday, March 1, and Orlando has...

  28. Chapter Twenty-two
    (pp. 291-304)

    ORLANDO WALKS INTO HIS E-PERIOD English class seven minutes late Friday, March 10. He spots Gregory Vazquez, a white Hispanic, at his desk in the aisle beside the window retrieving a clipboard from a neighbor. Orlando’s eyes flash a question mark.

    “Before you came in, I was passing around a petition trying to get an abandoned building turned into a youth center in my neighborhood,” Greg explains, grateful to have a neighborhood. He was born in Puerto Rico, where he was not only beaten by his father but had to witness the man abusing his mother. Finally when Greg was...

  29. Chapter Twenty-three
    (pp. 305-316)

    AS WELL AS SITTING REGULARLY in the ninth- and eleventh-graders’ English classes—and visiting every course taught at Rice at least once and most several times—I frequently attend Steve DiMattia’s Advanced Placement (AP) English class and Tim Hearn’s AP chemistry class. I want to get a sense of the academic progress of Rice students over four years and see how prepared they are for postsecondary courses.

    The class discussions that transpired in DiMattia’s class as he covered Ralph Ellison’sInvisible Manin the fall resonated with Orlando’s screening ofEyes on the Prizein the winter, for the juniors....

  30. Chapter Twenty-four
    (pp. 317-328)

    YUSEF TRAILS BEHIND ORLANDO as they make their way through crowd. It’s 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, March 19, and the Fordham University gym is filling to capacity for the championship game between the Rice Raiders and St. Raymond’s Ravens. The match decides the city Catholic high school trophy and the right to play in the state high school tournament. Last year, with a physically tougher team, Rice won both titles. This year, finesse will have to prevail.

    Two weeks ago, Rice ended the regular season losing to St. Raymond’s by five points. St. Raymond’s has a taller team and a...

  31. Chapter Twenty-five
    (pp. 329-344)

    J.V. AGAY SITS IN TIM HEARN’S AP chemistry class trying to maintain his poker face. It’s Thursday, April 13, the day after J.V. learned that Hearn is leaving Rice in June. J.V. hasn’t shown the pain he’s been feeling for months about his father’s life-threatening heart ailment. Maintaining a 97.8 average has kept his mind occupied, and Hearn’s class provides the intellectual challenge he hungers for.

    “He’s the only teacher who really understands me,” J.V. lamented after class yesterday. His normally intense eyes looked blank and his shoulders drooped like an abandoned child’s.

    Hearn made a point of telling his...

  32. Chapter Twenty-six
    (pp. 345-351)

    LAST FALL, STEVE DIMATTIA LEARNED how to deal with Orlando’s demand for projects in a way that reduced their burden and could have saved Tim Hearn his job. At a curriculum meeting, Orlando chided DiMattia for not submitting his grades for the first report card two days in advance of the date marked on the school calendar. DiMattia replied that the grades were due on the calendar date, since there was no indication otherwise. Orlando insisted that two days before was school policy, which was news to DiMattia.

    “The only reason you’re saying that is because you’re late and making...

  33. Chapter Twenty-seven
    (pp. 352-364)

    AT THE BEGINNING OF MAY, Orlando complained about severe lung congestion as he has several times this year. He was also experiencing stomach upset and gas to the point where he ordered an herbal remedy to clean out his digestive system. His parents use it regularly and find that it boosts their energy levels. But when the remedy arrived, Orlando deferred taking until the summer since he felt too fatigued to endure the purging. Instead, he started a regimen of vitamins and herbal teas, but he’s still dragging.

    On Tuesday, May 16, Orlando gets fired up at the awards assembly...

  34. Chapter Twenty-eight
    (pp. 365-375)

    “THANKS TO MR. ABBASSE FOR KEEPING me here when he should have me go,” was a common refrain at the graduation breakfast. It was also understatement. As Abbasse recalls, students like Linwood would teachers to “fuck off” and would even challenge him into their junior years. Half the seniors say they don’t know why they were allowed to stay at Rice while many other students were expelled, seemingly for less. What they didn’t understand is the deeply subjective side of Rice’s strict behavioral demands. Together, Orlando and Abbasse made judgments about the longterm prognosis for troublemakers based on the degree...

  35. Chapter Twenty-nine
    (pp. 376-388)

    CLASSES END ON FRIDAY, JUNE 9, and two weeks later, Orlando feels that he’s recovering from exhaustion. “Teaching the two English classes all year was very draining,” Orlando says as he sits in his office. Memories of the various symptoms he has suffered all year slip away. Instead he voices concern for Abbasse’s health, noting the dean’s habit of going for a drink after work has been aggravating his stomach problems. During the day Abbasse still seems to live on Mountain Dew and he seldom eats.

    Orlando enjoys a burst of energy after lunch as he plans next year’s course...

  36. Epilogue
    (pp. 389-418)

    AT THE END OF OCTOBER 2000, Orlando is discharged from the hospital and returns to his apartment to continue recovering. A home-care attendant cooks for him, runs errands, and takes him to doctors’ appointments. Happily the wounds on Orlando’s remaining foot are beginning to close, to the amazement of his doctor—but not Aunt Lila.

    In mid-November, Orlando meets with Rice’s board of directors in midtown Manhattan. He’s still feverish from his infections, and his stump healing more slowly than expected. Orlando admits that he might never recover to the point where he can work full-time again. Board members suggest...

  37. NOTES
    (pp. 419-440)
  38. INDEX
    (pp. 441-456)
  39. Back Matter
    (pp. 457-457)