Driving Dropout: A Personal Story

A few years ago, Davenport Community Schools in Iowa pushed a campaign that swept local media: asking dropouts to “Drop back in.”  They also wanted to hear stories as to why they dropped out.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I dropped out when I was sixteen due to unbearable conditions at school – but some may not know the whole story.

I took the liberty of submitting the reason I dropped out of school.  Incidentally, exactly one month and six days later – Maryville University accepted me as a student.  One year later, I was brought into honors program.  The following year I signed onto a research project that would place me in a certain political science journal.

I leave you with that email that I sent on March 4, 2012…

To whomever it is who checks and reads these e-mails,
I am replying to the Davenport Community School Districts supposed “plea” of assistance in combating dropouts by sharing my story as to what forced me to dropout. I encourage you all to pull my files, if they are still available, and have them nearby while I tell you about how this school district failed me. You can acquire them by referencing my name when I was a student there: Mark Struve. I do not claim to be anonymous, and do not wish to be. I encourage you to use my name in any way if it better addresses the issue, if that’s really what you are all so intent on doing.
As of this writing, I am 22 years old. When I dropped out, I was 16. My learning apparently stopped when I was only 11. But that’s not really what happened now, was it? I attended, in order: Adams Elementary, Williams Intermediate, North High, and then as a last hope the Kimberly Center.
Lets get to the point: Why did I dropout?
Why shouldn’t I have? After a very long and tiring, embarrassing, humiliating, and depressing 5 years...no one in the school district heard the cry for help my parents and I called for. All of the issues were my fault, I just didn’t want to learn. I should probably point out now, that I don’t type like a 5th grader, now do I? So I would have to assume that was an uneducated guess coming from a group of so-called “educators.” I couldn’t concentrate on work, and the work was boring. I knew all of these things already. I didn’t need a teacher telling me things I already knew and judging my intelligence to fit inside the box that society demanded that I fit into at the time, but that’s no reason...life is tough right? Typically when you excel, or know what you’re doing, you get promoted in the real world when a position was open, so that would make our previous line rather awkward wouldn’t it? I showed the work for 6 years, my teachers even were aware that I did not belong where I was, but yet again, our wonderful school district, and their significant wisdom decided that the teachers were wrong, I was wrong, and my parents were wrong. No one could know more than the administration.
What’s more, my mother wasn’t allowed to be my mother. She was told she wasn’t allowed, she had to be a teacher first, then a parent. Are these people for real? Was there a law that said teachers and administrators can not have children attending school in the same district as them? How intelligent was that to say? Okay, so she’s not my parent now, and my father isn’t around, so I guess that means we’ll just hold him responsible for himself, but we won’t listen to him when he makes a request. Brilliant.
The final verdict here is, I was abused by the school district, I was harassed, I was discriminated against, and honestly, I believe I was also conspired against. And you people called yourselves professionals, and leaders in education. What a joke...
Now, onto the story.
At Adams Elementary, I was in the Talented and Gifted Program every year, excluding my first year, that’s 1st through 5th if you want to be technical. I was a student who would later on be considered an honors student. Several of my teachers even evaluated my learning skills as of 5th grade to be on a 9th grade level. Yet, instead of building on those skills, their recommendation was brushed away by administration higher up in the school district. But what did it matter to me? They were teaching me basics, and basics is what I started with – but it was also all I needed at that time, and safe for a few kids pointing fingers and name calling, life was good.
Then came 6th grade. Can I ask has anyone there ever pictured the kid who’s mindset is that of an intellect, but also someone who is not acceptant on their appearance? So you want to throw them in a locker room full of jocks, and “popular” kids, that don’t have those issues...and you also expect their self-esteem to stay in the normal range? Did any of you ever work in child psychology? This started a new slew of problems, as the few kids from elementary, now grew to a group, and not just my grade either, higher ups. Kids I would have to see on a regular basis. So now I have a new problem, because of the depression, and lack of self esteem, I can’t focus in class. Not only that, but new kids are added in who are obnoxious, and while the teachers send them out, they just come right back. How can I possibly concentrate on the work I’m trying to do? Take it home? Maybe. But, now on top of that I also have gotten scared to even go to classes because of the fact those kids are there, and they do nothing but pick on me, and be obnoxious. I don’t have any self-esteem now, I have none to loose, and no way to gain it there. Soon, that work that I missed began to pile up, and the workload became overwhelming, especially to a pre-teen. Now I’m in the negative.
“You should have told your teacher about this.” Oh, but I did. But the school district had this brilliant idea, see...their idea was “getting adults involved in kids matter is uncool to the kids, so lets have other kids be student reps and councilors!” You’ve got to be kidding me. So I have a problem with a jock kid, so you’re going to have another jock kid listen to my problems, and expect that to make things better? It’s a double negative. It’s the same rule that negative 20, minus negative 30, makes negative 50. You have councilors for a reason, albeit they weren’t useful to me either, since it was always my own fault, and I was just reading into it too much, or telling me to just shake it off. Those things only work with someone who has feet to stand upon.
Trying to move me to another school proved frivolous, due to the fact that the principle at the school I attempted to transfer to denied me, because my mother was a teacher there, not taking into account that perhaps a smaller class size, and quieter periods might have helped me, she just didn’t want me there because of my mother. How do I know this? She called me into her office to tell me, to my face. Didn’t bother to tell my mother first, but told me first. How unprofessional.
By the time high school came around, I was limping through classes. I had no motivation. Why should I have, no one cared about me anyway. I was an obligation to my teachers, a pest to my councilors and principles, and a thorn in the side of the administrators. They made it all quite clear to me, that my problems were my own fault, and they couldn’t help me because I obviously didn’t want to help myself. Bravo, great job there guys...you hired some great councilors...I say again.
By December/January, Gary Schroeder, had gotten involved with me. Owing up that I’d have to just deal with the humiliation and harassment more to save my mothers life in terms of job, well being, and mental state (a child’s stress becomes their parents, I hope you know), I decided I had better try and reach an agreement to at least get me back to a somewhat better than extremely below normal path...
My mother was in Peoria, IL, my uncle was in the hospital, and we were worried that he was about to pass away. I called on my grandmother to pick me up from my home, and take me to North, where I had requested to talk to my councilor. Upon informing him that Gary had gotten involved, he immediately exclaimed that things were already serious...to me. He immediately proceeded to convene with the principle, and the dean of students...with my attendance. They laid into me, they tore me limb from limb, assaulting me with threats, lashing out at me with scenarios, saying that I asked for this, and am getting what I deserved, and that no one can help me now. They’re telling me this. ME. A 15 year old child. I was ordered to leave after the meeting. I called my grandmother with a shaky voice, I got in her van, and laid my head on the back of the seat in front of me all the way home, trying not to cry after being verbally abused at the attack I had just withstood, somehow. These people were supposed to help me. Why didn’t they help me? Why did they yell at me?
I leave my story here...
My thoughts on your district are this...
You failed me. You harassed me. You abused me. You discriminated against me. You robbed me of my education. You ignored me. You discriminated against my mother, and wronged one of your own employees. You ignored other employees for the sake of saving the future of a child. You people only care what you look like to the public. You don’t care about the few of us who you’ve wronged, if you did, I wouldn’t be sending this letter. Because of you, I can’t get into a good college without jumping through endless amounts of loopholes. Because of you, I can’t get that internship that would have my way paved for me. Because of you, I had to spend years of my life, just rebuilding who I am. You are all too interested in cutting the budget to make way for muscle heads, instead of education. You cut arts programs, you cut teachers, you don’t support them, you look at children as products, and their education as “software." You expect to program the children like the others, mass produce their ideas and knowledge. Then when someone like me comes along who already has a sense of what is what, you shun them, ignore them, and outcast them.
Your excuses are that you do what you’re told from higher up. Since you were all so good about telling me to grow up, and it’s apart of it, I share it with you. Part of being an adult is standing up for what is right. This school district doesn’t know how to do that. It never has, and with the board of education how it is (with no one on that board knowing what education even is), and an administration that is only focused on numbers, it never will be.
My advice to help dropouts is this.
Stop looking at us like we’re numbers. Start looking at us like we’re people. Otherwise, we’re going to become the numbers you don’t want.
That’s just the way it is. We’re your future, your numbers are not.
If you have questions, by all means...e-mail me. I would be happy to discuss this more.
Thanks for your time,
Michael Fraker

And if you were wondering…no. I never heard back from them.  The only part of this that I take issue with now, is that there are more out there that deal with things just like this and it’s wrong.  But no one is interested in helping those individuals.  It’s a  shame.  One of them could be the solution to a problem we don’t know about yet, or a serious problem we already have.  But we’ll never know because of selfish, ignorant, and narrow minded people.

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