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The Road Out

The Road Out: A Teacher's Odyssey in Poor America

Deborah Hicks
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    The Road Out
    Book Description:

    Can one teacher truly make a difference in her students' lives when everything is working against them? Can a love for literature and learning save the most vulnerable of youth from a life of poverty?The Road Outis a gripping account of one teacher's journey of hope and discovery with her students-girls growing up poor in a neighborhood that was once home to white Appalachian workers, and is now a ghetto. Deborah Hicks, set out to give one group of girls something she never had: a first-rate education, and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia?seven girls coming of age in poverty. This is a moving story about girls who have lost their childhoods, but who face the street's torments with courage and resiliency. "I want out," says 10-year-old Blair, a tiny but tough girl who is extremely poor and yet deeply imaginative and precocious. Hicks tries to convey to her students a sense of the power of fiction and of sisterhood to get them through the toughest years of adolescence. But by the time they're sixteen, eight years after the start of the class, the girls are experiencing the collision of their youthful dreams with the pitfalls of growing up in chaotic single-parent families amid the deteriorating cityscape. Yet even as they face disappointments and sometimes despair, these girls cling to their desire for a better future. The author's own life story-from a poorly educated girl in a small mountain town to a Harvard-educated writer, teacher, and social advocate-infuses this chronicle with a message of hope.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95371-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: A Teacher on a Mission
    (pp. 1-14)

    When I was a young girl growing up in a sleepy Appalachian paper mill town, I had a lot of dreams for a girl with limited opportunity. Probably the biggest of all my dreams was just to get away from where I was. I spent most of my girlhood in a perpetual state of roaming. The road in front of the wood-frame house we rented in my early years was paved but it soon turned to dirt, as it wound out of town and toward the hills and “hollers” nearby. At home were my parents and one brother, only ten...


    • CHAPTER ONE Ghost Rose Speaks
      (pp. 17-37)

      For Blair Rainey, things began to change in the winter when she was nine years old. This was the time in her life when Blair began to find herself on the pages of her book.

      Before then, she had listened and watched as her half sister, a girl in her teens, read aloud. Then things began to come together in a strange new mix: the scary movies Blair loved to watch on television; the book she was starting to read herself; the human drama in her family’s social center, a front-facing bedroom. Blair loved to read there, sitting up in...

    • CHAPTER TWO Elizabeth Discovers Her Paperback
      (pp. 38-56)

      Even before our class began on a warm morning later that same week in June, our two floor fans were already working furiously. The sun’s rays had begun to warm my ground-floor classroom past the comfort level. From the second floor came wafts of something that smelled toxic. The floors upstairs were being stripped, and it was of no consequence that the odors might be disturbing, or even unhealthy, for the children and teachers working on the floor below. An incident that generated anger and mistrust throughout the neighborhood crept into my thoughts. In the 1980s, several children had had...

    • CHAPTER THREE We’re Sisters!
      (pp. 57-76)

      A sickly-sweet odor prevailed in our classroom on the morning of June 28. On humid days and when it rained, the smell was always worse. Smells from a nearby industrial stripping company that burned off waste in the bottom of barrels and pumped it into the air mingled with those from a former creek, Mill Creek, that now doubled as an industrial sewer. In earlier times you could actually swim in the creek. Now the creek was so polluted from industrial waste that it had a rainbow of colors in its water: blue, green, orange. On warm sticky days it...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Girl Talk
      (pp. 79-104)

      Alicia took out the pacifier she had in her mouth. Even though the girls in my literature class were now in fifth grade, some of them occasionally brought a pacifier into our classroom. I wasn’t really sure if this was some kind of symbolic clinging to early childhood, or a new preteen mode of expression. Maybe a little of each, I thought, as Alicia began to speak.

      “You guys want to know a secret?” she said.

      It was our first meeting of February 2003, months into the new school year, and the late winter day was cold and bright. Alicia...

    • CHAPTER FIVE A Magazine Is Born
      (pp. 105-122)

      A raw winter wind rattled the old window frames in our borrowed ground-floor classroom on the third Monday of February. The girls’ nerves were rattled too. There were a lot of things for the girls in my literature class to be miserable about. The late winter weather was cold and bleak. The time for their big March proficiency testing was near, and that morning they had taken one of the long practice tests, for writing. Blair’s mother was at home, too, fresh out of a halfway house and acting crazy. Finally, over the weekend, Jessica and Mariah had gotten into...

    • CHAPTER SIX Mrs. Bush Visits (But Not Our Class)
      (pp. 123-142)

      Our conversation at the breakfast table on the morning of June 23 turned to the subject of politics. “The president isn’t doing nothing for our country,” said Shannon. She peeled a shell from one of the hard-boiled eggs I had cooked earlier that morning. The eggs were brown instead of white, and their unfamiliar color had drawn a few snickers.

      “The president ain’t doing a thing for poor people,” said Miss Susan, who joined us for breakfast just as she had the summer before. Now that the fifth-grade school year had ended, I could hold my special class every day...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN A Saturday at the Bookstore
      (pp. 143-158)

      Around Halloween and her thirteenth birthday, something strange and unexpected happened to Mariah during my after-school class. She fell in love with a novel.

      Mariah began her sixth-grade year with a big chip on her shoulder. She didn’t feel that her sixth-grade teachers liked her. She, in turn, didn’t give a damn about them. If it were allowed, one of her teachers would call her a bitch, Mariah felt. Every time someone said that she had done something in the classroom,Mariahgot in trouble. Her teacher didn’t come to her and say, “Did you do this?” She simply assumed...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Jessica Finds Jesus, and Elizabeth Finds Love
      (pp. 159-187)

      One morning in late January, I awoke before dawn because of a nightmare about my class. The sky outside was dim with a hint of light, though the moon was no longer visible. It was a chilly morning and damp, and I turned over in my bed and drew the covers closer, shivering.

      In my dream, a mad, dangerous woman was trying to snatch the girls away from me. My thoughts in this dreamworld were that some of the girls would never make it to high school. The girls were doing some kind of writing. One of the girls began...

    • CHAPTER NINE Blair Discovers a Voice
      (pp. 188-200)

      Dorothy Allison’s coming-of-age novelBastard Out of Carolinais set in Greenville County, South Carolina, which was in the year 1955, we learn from its young narrator, Bone, “the most beautiful place on earth.”¹ It is a land of weeping willows and black walnut trees—a southern landscape that in the drippy heat of summer pulls its inhabitants out onto porches and crusty, baked earth. Bone’s people are poor whites. She is born to a fifteen-year-old waitress, Anney, who was seduced by a sweet-talking black-haired boy. Anney is unconscious at Bone’s birth, and the job of creating an official story...


    • CHAPTER TEN At Sixteen
      (pp. 203-221)

      At sixteen, I already had one foot out the door of the small town where I had grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Behind me were two years of service industry jobs. I started working at fourteen, and by fifteen I was spending my summers in the hot, steamy dishwashing room of a nearby summer camp. The cooks, black women in their forties and early fifties, and I were there to do our paid labor and serve others. But I was more spirited than I was demoralized. I felt like a hungry young bird, wanting the security of a...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Girlhood Interrupted
      (pp. 222-232)

      High school stopped working for Shannon around the middle of her pregnancy, two months before she celebrated her sixteenth birthday. It was winter then, and the trees had lost their leaves. It was cold outside, often gray, and Shannon felt nauseous. She was stressed out, and always in a bad mood from her schoolwork. Her baby’s father, a boy of sixteen, had left town as soon as they learned she was pregnant. During her pregnancy, he called just once to ask how the baby was, then she didn’t hear from him again. Only Shannon’s good friends from school, Kristin and...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE I Deserve a Better Life
      (pp. 233-249)

      It was not the case, I learned, that all or even most of the girls who attended my four-year class were school-leavers by the age of sixteen. In spite of their family histories—most of the girls’ mothers had dropped out of school—the majority were more like me. Against all odds, they clung to the idea of getting an education, even going on to college. At sixteen, four of the seven girls saw some kind of college in their future, even if they had only a vague notion of where they might go or how they might get there....

      (pp. 250-267)

      The journey home to the land of her birth started for Mariah with a phone call to her mother. One afternoon, shortly after a blood relative visiting the city had given her her mother’s house phone number, Mariah decided to place the call. She was fifteen at the time, a freshman in high school. She had gone through a lot in the two years since we said our goodbyes in my literature class for girls. Her stormy emotions, and especially her anger, had followed her into middle school, where the drama of adolescence only fueled her outbursts. Through it all,...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 268-274)

      It has been twelve years since I first laid eyes on a thin, eight-year-old girl, Blair, and four years since I last spent significant time with her and my six other students. When we last met to talk and share stories about their lives and mine, the girls were sixteen, about to enter young adulthood. Now most are twenty: they are young women. We stay in touch through text messaging and email, though less frequently than in the past. My former students Adriana, Alicia, Elizabeth, Jessica, Mariah, Shannon, and Blair are busy building their own adult lives, and for three...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 275-278)