A weekend interview with Christine Gadson, Pinellas parent and 'Pop Up Mom'
Christine Gadson’s son Drayson had plenty of issues in school, but he ultimately earned a diploma from Boca Ciega High School in 2009. Gadson, 45, says it’s because she trusted his teachers, stressed the importance of a diploma and made sure he didn’t fall through the same cracks that have claimed so many other young black men. She has a term for her habit of randomly showing up at school to keep tabs on her son: Pop Up Mom. (The interview has been edited for length. Times photo/Kathleen Flynn)
Why did your son struggle in school?
I believe what really happened was the death of my mom. My mom passed when he was seven years old. There were three girls in the house – me, my mom and my daughter. And he was the only boy. And that was the rock of us. That was the second mom to them. They really took it hard. They never got a chance to say goodbye.
What started happening in school?
He started acting up. He wouldn’t listen to nothing the teachers would say. He was tearing up the classroom. He started running around the classrooms, very disruptive. It got so bad, he went from one school to another school (from Seventy-Fourth Street to Norwood to Campbell Park). I used to have to leave work and go to the schools, be there, bring him home sometimes.
So did that solve it? Or were there more issues after that?
I talked to different counselors and stuff, and they said let’s see if we can get him someplace else to try to help him. And they said let’s send him to Lakewood. I was agreeing with that. I said look if they put him in a school closer to me – I work right there, by Lakewood Elementary, right across the street in a nursing home. When they moved him closer to Lakewood, he had some defiance problems. He was still acting up. But I could leave my job and run over there.
When they changed principals, that’s when Mr. (Ray) Tampa came into play. Dray would still do his thing, but not as bad. But instead of every school other which would make me come and get him and send him home, Mr. Tampa would find him stuff to do. Clean up the classroom. You’re going to clean the tables. Had him doing all kinds of little stuff.
So the principal made a difference?
He did. He got on him. He let him know, you’re not going to do this in this school. You’re going to learn. You’re going to get an education. And you’re going to do right. But he still had his moments now. But with me, being the mother that I was, I was coming too. So instead of him being sent home and this and that, they worked with him. I really believe the reason they worked with him is because of the mother that he had. We call. She’s coming. I was Johnny on the Spot.
Why do you think that made a difference?
Teaching is a job. And these teachers really deal with some things. I know Drayson was no angel. So the teachers that he had, they were my guardian angels. I could talk to his teachers and say look, ‘You act like he is your child and you get on him.’So you trusted them?
Yes. And I don’t think he had a teacher that wasn’t a good teacher to him.
After Campbell Park, Drayson briefly attended Morgan Fitzerald Middle and a private school before going to Richard L. Sanders School.
So he went there from sixth grade on?
I think he started there in seventh. And they went ahead and worked with me and said Ms. Gadson, we’re going to go ahead and put Drayson in high school. I said are you for real? They said we’re going to terminate him from this. They worked with him. I mean, they worked with him. And he went on to Bogie. And that’s where he finished. He would have his little moments at Bogie. But he had his counselors and he had some excellent teachers. And I was like the Pop Up mom. See one thing about me, I pop up. You never know when I’m coming. So he would have some little moments. And I would pop up.You popped up to see him? Not to check on the teachers?
To see him.
Why was that important?
To see what he’s doing. To make sure I know what he’s doing.
So how often would you do that?
Often. I’d go get me a pass and I’d go right to the class and I’d stand in the doorway.
What did he think about that?
Embarrassing. ‘Ma, you came out there again.’ Yep, I sure did. I’m his mother.
And you did it because you wanted him to do good in school?
That’s right. I needed a diploma. I needed him to graduate.
Why is that so important?
Because he’s a black, young man. A minority. A black man. He has to (graduate). We have so many of our young guys, especially our black men, that just don’t care. And I was determined that this was something he was going to do. He was going to be able to have those things, and he was going to be able to have that paper to carry him. To say, don’t judge this book by its cover, you better read it.
It must have been a nice moment when he got that diploma and walked across the stage.
It was excellent. I was constantly there. He had to get his credits, and we had to make sure. So I was constantly calling, I was constantly going to meetings. Let’s see where he’s at. Let’s see what he’s doing. When they said they were doing FCAT, I was getting up in the mornings, 4:30, 5 o’clock, fixing big breakfasts. They said make sure they eat. I was going to make sure. You’re going to be full. You’re going to be well. They said I fed him to death. We was doing pancakes. We was doing bacon. We was doing eggs. I wanted to make sure he was full. I wanted to make sure he could think. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t stressed out.
Why do you think more parents don’t do what you do?
One thing people don’t know about Chris Gadson is I didn’t ever get one (a diploma). I dropped out of school. I got pregnant. The things I didn’t do in high school, I wasn’t going to let them (her kids) be like me. I used to like to run the street and have fun, because my mother would be at work. I didn’t let them do that. Everything I did, I didn’t let them do that.
So you learned your lesson?
I was determined that I wasn’t going to let my kids be like that. I had an excellent mother. When I got pregnant, I knew I hurt her. I was going to show my children that I wanted them to do everything that I didn’t do. I didn’t do the prom. I didn’t do Homecoming. I didn’t do Grad Night. But my children did.Last week we had tragic news.
What did you think when you heard about Nick Lindsey (the 16-year-old Gibbs High student accused of shooting and killing police officer David Crawford)?
A young man lost. So lost.
Is there a connection between what happened and what’s going in schools with young black males?
It’s like this, do you know where you child is at all times? You as a parent you have to stay up on that. You as a parent you have to go out and see what’s going on with your child.
So when people talk about a connection between crime and schools and what’s happening with young black men, it sounds to me like you’re saying is this is more an issue about parents getting things right than schools?
We as parents have to go and meet our teachers half way. We as parents have to stick by our teachers. Me and his teachers talked all the time. His teachers kept my cell number. They knew to call me. Ms. Gadson, he’s such such such and such. These teachers, they take their time out to try to see about these kids. I had teachers who was willing to help me with mine. So I had to have my teachers’ back.
So short and sweet, 100 words or less, what advice do you have for parents?
Parents, communicate with your teachers. Go out to the schools. Visit with those teachers. See what your children are doing. Pop up. Pop up. You won’t know nothing unless you go there. Stand outside that door and peep in on that child and see what they’re doing.