I walked from our home at 5:37 tonight, strolling over to the neighborhood school to catch a big, yellow school bus. As I came up to the school corner, a man greeted me. His eyes were vacant at first, the standard “hello”.
And then, it hit him.
“Oh, you’re Meaghan’s dad! My daughter works in the office. She told me about you the day you came in to register for school.”
He was older but seemed youthful still. He has two kids: a daughter, aged twenty, and a son, aged twenty six. His daughter is going to art school while his son is studying to be a video games developer. He laughed as he told me about them.
Mr. Perez was on the teaching staff for Meaghan’s 8th grade class.
As we talked he told me of his twenty years at the school--first as an involved parent, then as a volunteer. He grew to love the school, so he studied to gain his teaching certification. He secured it and, sure enough, became a devoted teacher.
He told me of a time about five years ago when he and his family were at a crossroads: they had been living very close to the school, but they needed a bigger place to live so his daughter could have more room to practice her art. Should they move to another part of town so as to afford more space?
No, he couldn’t bring himself to it. The neighborhood had come to mean the world to him and his family. Eventually, something a bit bigger turned up just a couple blocks away; their waiting paid off.
Mr. Perez has been working with the neighborhood council to coordinate educational improvements for middle schoolers in Albany Park, our neighborhood in Chicago. There are six middle schools that feed into Roosevelt High School and it was discovered that the middle schools needed to do a better job preparing their students for high school. Top of the list: make sure they all have the same core curriculum so the kids don’t feel so lost when they go to high school.
He told me that at first it was hard to agree from one school to the next, that (of course) each school felt their program of study was best. But in time, he said, they came to see things eye to eye. Listening to each other, talking, wanting to learn. Fostering a spirit of cooperation.
Last year Mr. Perez tracked how the eighth graders did when they moved on to ninth grade. He didn’t have to track with them, but he really cares about them, wants to see them succeed. So, he paid them a visit.
“What do you need? How is it going? Can I do anything to help you?”
These questions of concern--this special visit to his former pupils--put them at ease, showed them there’s someone that cares, really cares and hadn’t forgotten them.
We all like to be remembered, we all need to know there's someone that cares. Mr. Perez is that someone to these kids.