Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Neal Interview - Part One

The rain was falling hard enough to make a racket on the roof of my car. Without a hat or a hood I would have to make a dash for the door.
I looked in the rear view mirror, and leaned back to get a better angle so I could check out my hair. Damn, it was already frizzy. Since there was nothing to save, there was no need to run. I cut through the custodians' entrance to save a few steps anyway.

Just inside the doorway stood Neal, with a couple of sheets of paper in his hand.

"I laughed for half an hour when I read your post. I had to print it out for my mother to read. She's computer illiterate."

"How are you coming with the questions I gave you?"

"I was working on them yesterday. I wrote about a page. I'm not done with them yet, but I will show you what I finished when I come up to your class."

I have to admit, the interview questions I gave Neal were pretty lame, so he answered most of them with a single sentence. I needed him to elaborate, so we talked about his answers when he came to class this morning. I will share what I have learned about him here.

Neal lives in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland with his mom and dad. He told me that he took offense to my reference to the "gritty sidewalks of the near west side", as his neighborhood is kept up and "believe it or not, I know who my daddy is." He has lived in Cleveland all his life, attending grade school at St. Pat's West Park.
When asked why he chose to come to Max Hayes High school he responded, "The only reason I came to Max Hayes was because I had no other place to go. I was out of options." Pressed to explain he said "Holy Name wouldn't take me. They rejected me because my grades were awful. My best friend, Eric, goes there though."

On his questionnaire he describes himself as a mystery.
In his words: "I say this because you can look at me and you have no idea what I am thinking, but on the other hand, I can look at you and read your face and know what you are up to." I disagreed with his terminology, saying he was perceptive rather than mysterious, and suggested he might want to take some psychology classes, if he goes to college.
But Neal isn't thinking about applying to any college programs this year, instead, he jokes about staying in high school until he is 21.

After school, Neal likes to work on things.
He recently bought a riding lawn mower off of Craig's List so he could earn money cutting neighbor's lawns this summer. He says there are a lot of older people on his street who need some help. He would like to start a business fixing lawn mowers, but he admitted he works slowly, and customers couldn't expect to have any work finished overnight.
After last month's snowstorm, he made quite a few bucks cleaning peoples' driveways. Like so many teenagers, sleep is high on his list of things he likes to do when he is not at school, followed by fishing and camping. On weekends, he and his buddy Eric take "road trips"; anywhere out of the city, anywhere but Cleveland.

When asked to share his thoughts on being a public school student, and in particular how he viewed his educational experience at Max Hayes, Neal first expressed his disappointment in the way people look down on public school students.

"There are a good amount of students who want to learn. They do care, but the ones who don't really make the whole school look bad."

He observed how that attitude also extended to the teaching staff. He noted that there were very good teachers at Max Hayes High School, but then there were some teachers who didn't seem to care about the students. He said you could tell which ones were only in the classroom to collect a check. Admittedly this is most likely true at most schools, but Neal's concern is with his own experience.

When asked if anyone at Max Hayes has made a positive impact on him, not surprisingly, the head custodian, Duane Gibson was the person who he said was his best influence.

"I always think about the advice he gave me, " Neal laughs. "He told me 'Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.' "

True enough, Neal.

I also asked Neal some questions dealing with his views on the city of Cleveland, it's neighborhoods, it's leadership, and what it would take to keep him here. He's still thinking about those questions. I will share his answers with you later this week.

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