I was in upstate last weekend, driving from the supermarket in the village to the farm, when my cell rang. I glanced at the screen and saw the name of my principal, T. Rex. My heart raced but not my hand. I didn’t answer the phone. Really, I didn’t.
In the few remaining miles of my trip home I thought of all the bad news T. Rex’s call might deliver. My mind ran through images of my students, seeing each face of the young people who grace my life each week. Was one of them in trouble? Or, had something worse happened? I teach in a Bronx, New York high school but these days, for any teacher in any community, it isn’t a leap to think something awful has happened.
When I arrived home, I grabbed my cellphone and saw that a message had been left. Punching numbers I heard the familiar, “First unheard message.” The message was from my Assistant Principal. She got to the point quickly, instinctively knowing the worst things I was imagining. Smart A.P..
Her message hit me like a punch. The building I work in had been broken into during the night. The thieves had carried away a big haul. I’m not supposed to say a lot about the break-in (nor talk to the press, per NYC DOE rules) but this is personal.
Arena 6 had been broken into and every one of the laptops my students use had been stolen. The cables which attach them to the desks had been sawed through, and the thieves carried the computers out of the building. Two other arenas suffered similar losses. The other school which shares the building had also been robbed.
On Monday, I drove to Bronx Arena in the drizzly, foggy, grim darkness of a mid-January New York City morning feeling like I would puke. Things didn’t get better after I found a parking spot and walked to my school. They got worse as I entered the building and walked upstairs, and down the hall to my classroom. A wonderful teacher of ELA walked with me, as upset at the news as I was.
When I entered my room I was stunned to see the empty desks. Two other teachers were already there and they offered some words of comfort that I really didn’t hear. The urge to vomit was replaced by a need to cry.
Bronx Arena is a technology based school. All of the courses we offer are on line. The students produce nearly all of their work digitally, on the laptops which were now gone. In another school, it would be as if all of the pens and pencils, each chalkboard or whiteboard, and every notebook, binder, sheet of loose-leaf, and scrap of paper had been stolen.
Before I could ask, “How will my students work?” an enormous steel cabinet was being rolled through the door of my room. The staff at Bronx Arena had scrambled over the weekend to procure enough laptops to replace those stolen. T. Rex must have called in some favors and, as I understand, at least one apology from other resources in New York City.
Our technology genius had also been hard at work all weekend making sure our students’ education would not miss a beat. It was an amazing sight and then, I was sure I would cry.
I work with the most amazing staff any school has ever assembled.
By nine-thirty, my students started arriving from their first period classes. All noticed the empty desks and over and over again I heard the question, “Where are our computers?” I waited until they seated and quiet before breaking the bad news. There was an uproar: “We were robbed!”
When I had them quiet again I gave them the good news. We had replacement computers. I told them there would be some changes in rules. Computers would now have to be signed out and returned each day. All students would be responsible for the laptop issued to them. Any work saved on their old hard drives was lost. (They are supposed to save their work in a Google Documents folder which I share.) And yes, if you have lost work you will have to do it over.
I wanted to move away from talk of robbery as quickly as I could, and move my students forward in their work. I was ready to finish my brief talk, and told them, “There is only one reason all of us are here…” I paused for a second, and then corrected myself. “There are two reasons we are here: The first is to love each other, and the second is to graduate from high school.”
My students laughed at my mention of loving each other, but it was a brief laugh. It was a knowing laugh. I know, A.C. knows, and they know, we care for each other. There is a lot of love in Arena 6. That love is something no thief could carry.
Note: This post was originally published in 2012. I was “urged” to remove it. Now, with the crime long since solved, I thought it was time to re-post it.