Faith, Hope...and Charity

Against all odds, this nine-year-old has been voted the most likely to succeed.

"She talks too much," Essence says of her sister, "but she's nice and caring and has a good personality."

Charity's first day of third grade -- in a fourth-grade class -- was also the first day for her teacher in a new job, as well as the first day for Hallett's new principal. There's a telephone inside every classroom at the school, and when the phone rang that first day, Ms. Cornell didn't answer. It would be awkward to interrupt a lesson for a phone call, she thought. But eventually the message made it through: There'd been a drive-by shooting near the school, and Hallett was in lockdown.

Charity hates violence. The one thing she knows about Iraq is that there's a lot of violence there. And the violence she sees on the local news is the one thing she doesn't like about Denver.

Jim J. Narcy
All in the family: Lisa Norwood and her children (from left) Autumn, Essence, JoVaughn, Micah, Majesty and Charity.
Jim J. Narcy
All in the family: Lisa Norwood and her children (from left) Autumn, Essence, JoVaughn, Micah, Majesty and Charity.

To Charity, it seems that a lot of fourth-graders like violence. They're quick to egg students on to a fight, as she pointed out at a recent restorative-justice intervention. That's a school program Charity was appointed to because she gets along with most students, is able to articulate her thoughts well -- and has such insightful thoughts. At the intervention, Charity concluded that the two students who were fighting might not do it if the rest of the class would discourage it rather than fuel the fire.

"All of my kids kind of struggle to see what the social scene is in fourth grade," says Ms. Cornell. "To me, that's very typical of Charity. What's unusual is she always gets what I say the first time. She's very bright. School is just always going to come easy for her. Her mind is very agile, it's very flexible, it's very dynamic, it's very quick. She can incorporate new concepts quickly."

For example, she says, once the students were assigned to pick a hero in African-American history. Charity bounced around Wikipedia, looking at all of the information about Malcolm X, and was soon clicking on every word or phrase highlighted in blue that she didn't know, like the Black Panther Party. "Malcolm X was like Martin Luther King Jr. but not like Martin Luther King Jr.," Charity explains. "Martin Luther King Jr., he did speeches and stuff, but Malcolm X, he did something for Muhammad Ali."

Another time, Ms. Cornell took her class on a field trip to AmeriTowne, where kids run the mini-community. Each of her students was assigned a job; Charity was the snack bar's manager. The kids all earned money from their work and had two breaks when they could spend it however they pleased. But the snack bar was so busy that by the end of the day, when most of Charity's classmates had bags full of toys, Charity hadn't bought anything. She'd worked through both of her breaks.

On Monday morning, Ms. Cornell's class begins with everyone taking out their journals to write down the highlights of the weekend. Charity writes about going to the bookstore with her new mentor, a volunteer with Metro Denver Partners, which pairs adults with at-risk youth. Charity's favorite hobby is reading, and her mentor bought her two books; she's already a good way through both.

After they're done writing, everyone heads to the back of the classroom, where they're supposed to sit on the rug and share what they've written.

"I was driving drunk this weekend," says the rapper-shirt boy as he heads back. He's being so bad, Ms. Cornell sends him out into the hall before everyone's told their stories.

Charity looks up to that boy. She confesses that she kind of has a crush on him because he's funny and cute. But she only likes him when he's good, like when he leads dance class. She doesn't like it when he's bad.

Charity tries hard not to be bad herself. "I just get frustrated sometimes," she admits. "Everybody does."

She's had one ongoing problem this year. Even though she does all the assignments, she keeps failing to turn in her homework. "When you go place to place, you get really unorganized and you forget your homework and you have to do it over and you have to stay after school," Charity says. "I work on it, but it's hard to keep track of stuff with six kids."

Charity's kind-of crush is back in class by the time the kids begin their next writing assignment: leprechaun stories. As they write their stories, the rapper-shirt boy sees two girls being mean to each other and intervenes. And then he's the first one to step in front of the class and read his story, about a leprechaun who pushes him around and kicks him after school. To handle the problem, the boy calls in his video-game hero, Halo, who shoots the leprechaun dead. Another student reads his tale of two leprechaun gangs robbing each other for their gold. Charity has written about a leprechaun with pimples on his face: Someone steals his gold, but the leprechaun doesn't have the right mindset to fight back, and when he finally does chase the thief, he falls on a crack and dies.

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