The name of Aiton Elementary School teacher Arlyss Jones was misspelled in the District Weekly's Jan. 7 and Jan. 28 editions. (Published 2/4/88)
For 8-year-old Jason Smith of Bladensburg Road NE, the first two years of school were not fun. In that period, Jason had been expelled for disruptive conduct from several schools and he endured the stigma of being classified as an "underachiever."
But with the motivation and steady support of his grandmother and guardian Ethel Smith, that pattern has changed.
After being tested and diagnosed as a child needing "special education services," Jason has excelled scholastically this school year in his second grade class at Aiton Elementary School, 533 48th Place NE. Now he has a new attitude about education and himself. "I feel good . . . real good," Jason said. "No one calls me stupid anymore."
"His first report card from Aiton was all As and Bs and we can tell that he really enjoys learning. I was determined that Jason would not become another carbon copy of a statistic," said Smith, a social worker for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 10 years.
"When Jason first came to my class, he was bragging about being expelled, but I let him know quickly that he wasn't going to do that here," said special-education teacher Arleese Jones.
Jones said that after visiting Jason's home as part of his special-education evaluation, she saw that Smith's work is "remarkable," citing Jason's emotional and academic progress.
"Children need to have appropriate encouragement and positive reinforcement from the home . . . and there are a lot of Jasons running around this city who don't get that attention," Jones said.
Smith did not hesitate to take action when Jason would return from school with tears in his eyes after being dismissed from class or humiliated by the pupils. Jason's mother, who was 15 when she gave birth to him, was "not prepared to accept the role model of a mother," Smith said. "I had to take control because Jason needed motivation and I had a lot of it to give."
She began charting Jason's study plan by requiring two hours of uninterrupted concentration on homework each evening. A kitchen timer is used to monitor Jason's ability to complete an assignment within a designated period. "He knows that when the bell rings, it's time to stop."
Once after completing his homework, Jason quickly closed his textbook and immediately headed for his favorite dirt bike, parked in the corner of the living room. "How much time do I have?" Jason asked in eager anticipation of recreation. "Fifteen minutes," Smith responded. As she reached for the timer, Jason raced out the door.
Moments later, the simultaneous ringing of the timer and the doorbell signified Jason's return. He entered the house with a smile, boasting: "I'm back . . . on time."
Smith explained: "Kids need to know the importance of time management. Otherwise, they end up wasting time throughout life. That's what I'm trying to instill in Jason."
Smith said personal frustration and the daily reports of "no hope" for Jason from his teachers spurred her to begin tutoring him every night. She would coach him repeatedly: "Jason, in this world, we've got to stand proud."
Those words of advice are now the title of a poem, "I Stand Proud," which Smith wrote "during moments of discouragement." A local radio station and book publishers have apparently caught on to the theme of self-esteem and determination that the poem conveys:
I stand so proud now look at me,
I stand so proud now what do you see;
Ability to write, ability to read,
Ability to fulfill all of my needs;
Ability for knowledge, ability for pride,
Ability to forward all of my drive;
I stand so proud now what do you see,
The new and improved image of me!
At school, Jason flaunts one of the "I Stand Proud" T-shirts his family made; WHUR-FM radio plans to use the poem as lyrics for a song to be produced next month, and Smith's poem is one of 600 "outstanding poems" published by the American Poetry Association.
Jason's progress has inspired Smith to take another step. She recently started a community organization, The Children Are Our Future. Through it, she hopes to encourage the city's children to strive for academic excellence and personal pride.
She said essential factors for achieving those goals are parental interest and identifying role models for the children. Smith attributes academic deficiency in children to "the lack of attention they receive at early age. In rearing children, you must have an ear for listening . . . . They are crying out for help, but many parents don't take heed."
Smith said her rigid disciplinary actions are coated with love and a desire to give Jason the best. She added, "Children need discipline and direction in order to succeed."
Smith said her ultimate goal "is to help one person. If I can help somebody, then my living is not in vain. And I would say to other parents, or guardians: When it comes to school, helping children to do well is a sacred duty."