Christine Gadson's son, Drayson, had plenty of issues in school, but he earned a diploma from Boca Ciega High School in 2009. Gadson, 45, a single mother of two, says it's because she trusted his teachers, stressed the importance of education and would randomly show up at school to keep tabs on him. The term she coined: pop-up mom. Gadson said Drayson started acting out after his grandmother, the "rock" of the family, died.
What started happening to Drayson?
He wouldn't listen to anything 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 elementaries. I used to have to leave work and go to the schools, be there, bring him home sometimes.
So how did you solve it?
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 … instead of every other school which would make me come and get him and send him home, Mr. Tampa would find him stuff to do. Clean up the classroom. 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 … 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 … 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 Fitzgerald Middle and a private school before going to Richard L. Sanders School. He finished at Boca Ciega. Through it all, Gadson kept popping up at his schools.
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 well 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.
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 on in schools with young black males?
It's like this: Do you know where your 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.
We as parents have to go and meet our teachers halfway. 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 … I had teachers who were willing to help me with mine. So I had to have my teachers' back.
So 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 anything unless you go there. Stand outside that door and peep in on that child and see what they're doing.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.