Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

“We did not all come over in the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.”

-Bernard Baruch

Since accepting my position at Banneker school, I knew that I would be very different from the students I am working for. (And I am working for the students; to broaden their educational experience, to give them a more enriching life every day they are at school, and to find more resources to give them the attention they deserve). Of course there are the obvious differences. I am older than them by a good margin. (Actual encounter: “How old are you?” “Well, Reagan was President when I was born.” “Who’s Reagan?”) I have a different color skin than almost all of the students. Finally, I am a Northerner from Chicago and a New Orleans newcomer. There are many ways to note the difference in location, like food, pace of life, city size, accents, etc., but it was most glaringly apparent this past Sunday when the Saints dominated my Chicago Bears.

Then there are the differences that I expected to find between the students and myself, which ended up being much more extreme than I thought. I knew that I would be in a school much different than those I attended in my youth. I had the privilege of going to private school as a child, where there were always resources to meet my educational needs. In this school however, there is not enough of anything to meet the needs of the students. As with most schools, Banneker could always use more money and more books, but with an exceptionally high population of special needs students, warm bodies are the hottest commodity. People are needed to help the abundance of students who are several grades behind where they should be, to communicate with the large number of deaf students, to teach simple words to the middle school student who still cannot read….the list goes on. These are problems unknown to my childhood schools. Now, in trying to bring community resources into the school, I am faced with a mountain of issues that seems quite daunting.

Finally, there are the things that are different from my own experiences that I never expected to find. I never expected to find six and seven year olds brawling with each other in the hallways. I never expected to find such a large number of families who do not care about their child’s education. I never expected to find small children who honestly believed they had no opportunities in life. Yet I also never expected to find educators who switched careers or came out of retirement because they wanted to give these children a better future. I never expected to find such great curiosity and wit among the students.

However different we are from each other, the students and I now have intertwined futures. The school has high hopes for me, and I am invested in the success of its mission. So despite the fact that we do not look alike, that we speak differently, and that we were born into worlds that are poles apart, now we are all in the same boat.

– George Doonan Martin, Tulane VISTA, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

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About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.

One comment on “Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

  1. Ben Brubaker
    October 19, 2011

    I loved the quote and how you tied it into your piece… very deep. It made me feel like I’m in that same boat with you.

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