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It's a Friday afternoon at the Renaissance Children's Center in Lakewood, and six-year-old Demetrey Fulks is out of control again. First he hit a boy over the head with a plush Pokémon toy. Then he ordered another student to bring him his Game Boy. Now he's play-fighting with some other kids, but it looks like it hurts.
For a child with an such angelic face, Demetrey punches hard.
Five boys and one girl, all in kindergarten and first grade, come to this classroom every day after school. This week is spring break, though, so they've been here all day. For their teacher, Marie Solano, it's been a long one. "They watched movies in the morning, and now they're rambunctious," she explains. Most of them won't be going home for another three hours.
When the play-fighting ends, Demetrey turns his attention toward two toys. "Kill him, kill him, kill him!" he shouts, as he slams Pikachu against a stuffed animal. When he tires of bashing the toys together, he approaches two boys who are playing quietly at a table and grabs a toy out of one of the kid's hands. The boy demands it back, but Demetrey has his arm poised behind him, ready to throw it. When Solano tells Demetrey to return it, he flings the toy across the room. Solano tells him to get it. He doesn't.
The only girl in class, a quiet six-year-old with fingernails painted green for Saint Patrick's Day, looks up from the picture she's drawing to survey her classmates. The expression on her face says she thinks they're from another planet.
Demetrey picks up a cushion and hurls it on top of the table where the two boys are sitting. They join Demetrey in pushing the cushion to the floor, where they hide under it. After a few minutes, they emerge, wrestling. The little girl rolls her eyes and rotates her finger beside her head, indicating that she thinks the boys are crazy.
The boys call each other "butthead" and then giggle at their transgression. But the playful rough and tumble turns violent when Demetrey socks one of the boys in the eye. At that, Solano orders Demetrey to take a seat. He screams and cries in protest, claiming that the other boy hit his friend.
"I didn't do it, I didn't do it," he screeches, his voice choking on his sobs.
Solano tells him for the second time to sit down at the table. It's snack time, and there's a special treat today: A cake with green icing in the shape of a shamrock. The little girl helps Solano wheel the cake in from the kitchen and set the table. Demetrey is still sitting in the middle of the room bawling and yelling. "Demetrey, one last time: Put your shoes on, wash your hands and sit at the table," Solano says sternly.
Demetrey ignores her. Two of the other boys chase each other around the room, also indifferent to the teacher's instructions. Solano's frustration is clear. She asks one of the boys if he's taken his pill yet; he has attention deficit disorder, and he's wired. He claims he took his medication earlier in the day.
After a few minutes, the boys settle down and take their seats. Demetrey has stopped crying and seems to take an interest in the cake, realizing for the first time that it's there.
A few minutes later, daycare director Joyce Kinney walks into the classroom; it appears that the boy with ADD did not tell the truth about taking his Ritalin. Kinney has the pill in her hand, and when she tries to give it to him, he refuses.
"How many people think he should take his pill?" Kinney asks the children. They all raise their hands.
"Maybe if we don't look at him, he'll take it," one boy suggests.
The kids cover their eyes. But the boy keeps his lips closed tight, as if to prevent the pill from being forced into his mouth.
"How about we give you a dollar?" Demetrey offers. The boy momentarily perks up at that, but then shakes his head no as Kinney approaches him. Another boy encourages him to take his pill now so that he won't have to later.
"I'm only going to stay another minute and then I'm leaving," Kinney warns.
"Okay," the boy says matter-of-factly. He stares down at the table, his arms crossed.
After a couple of minutes pass in silence, Kinney leaves, defeated.
Aggression and defiance are commonplace at the Renaissance Children's Center. Originally a part of a Colorado Coalition for the Homeless program called the Family Community Center, the daycare has been open for six years. During the first four of these, the Family Community Center was located in the coalition's building in downtown Denver; it was a place where homeless women could study for their general equivalency degree, take parenting classes, receive daycare for their children and get mental and physical health care.
Although funding for the Family Community Center eventually ran out, the daycare stayed open, and in 1999, it changed its name and moved to Lakewood, where the coalition was building apartments for low-income families, some of whom used to be homeless. "We convinced them that we were providing a valuable service, so they agreed to give us this land," says Cathy Danuser, the center's family-services coordinator. The Renaissance Children's Center is now available to kids living in the coalition-owned apartments, as well as those in the surrounding neighborhood.