That was the question the 21-year-old graduating student at San Diego State had to find out for herself. Born in Colorado, A. (to allow her some privacy) never had much reason to visit, much less live, in an East Coast city. The U.S. capital was likely to provide more than the usual urban challenge. She knew that, and she also knew that - in her words - "I could afford to try anything for one year." The problem for the young AmericaCorps teaching assistant was to stick the course, once she knew exactly what the challenge was.
DC public schools are enormously complex, based in large part on the city's geography. The majority (African American) of its citizens reside across the Anacostia River, a strict divide both in income levels and topography - factors of history and economics (a way not to mention racial prejudice through the years). The neighborhoods east of the river have tribes of their own - often, she found out, based simply on where a person lived. Boundaries can be staked out in defensive mode, strictly because 'being different' is dangerous. Being different in skin color and different ivy a street number. Taking refuge as cover for slights elsewhere.
She never had thought of becoming an education professional (her mother is an elementary school teacher in Colorado). She was an international business major with thoughts of somehow eventually getting a job in the non profit sector. Striving daily up front and personal with a small team of other paid assistants like her to help middle school students would teach her lessons she hadn't anticipated - such as how to react when fights break out on school grounds. The worst one she witnessed was between the mother of a student and her daughter's classmate. The daughter had lost a fight a day earlier with another student so the mother got friends to come with her to beat up the 'winner.'
She'll work hard by whatever means possible just to get a young student to apply his talent - 'and they are really bright talented kids" - so he can move on to the next level. To get him up to C level, to keep him interested in subject matter - in anything. "So many parents are young and disadvantaged themselves. There are children having children." Sure, support staff is impressive at the school but A's job - which includes free Metro pass and food stamps - isn't one that can be described except within context of particular classes and children. She and her cohorts, who include young people of color, receive several weeks' training in advance of the school year. But how to prepare for the ten-hour days full of stress and frustration over what can't be readily controlled.
The usual explanation for the term DC Culture is Go Go - hip hop and rap combined. Joyous upbeat vocal and physical manifestations of energy. But there is a dark (often held to be derogatory ) side too often overlooked where problems exist that can take months, even years, to solve.