"When you constantly hear people say you're nothing, you go to a bad school, you're stupid, that becomes pretty much all you know," says Kaleena Rounds, valedictorian of Central High School. "A lot of these things keep people down. After a while, you're like, 'They're right, I'm not worth anything. I'm not even gonna try.'"
But, of course, Rounds and other students have tried, yet adults caught up in the district's political battles often ignore successes. That's what happened on May 15 when a group of Rounds' classmates gathered at 1211 McGee for a presentation before the school board about Central's award-winning peer counseling program. Its director, Mike Patterson, had recently beat out high school counselors from across the United States for the National Peer Helpers Association Professional Award, and students wanted to celebrate as he received props from the board.
But their moment of glory was upstaged by a made-for-TV drama. A hoard of parents arrived on the same night to wave picket signs and berate board members for leaving them in the dark. The action netted a glowing story in the morning paper -- "Concerned parents took a big step ... toward improving communication with the Kansas City School District." The following Sunday, Kansas City Star editorial page editor Rich Hood hailed it in a column titled "Amid all the gloom, signs of hope."
But the Central students saw it differently. They saw a bunch of publicity-hungry parents bitch for a few minutes and promptly leave, media in tow. "It was like they contradicted theirselves," says senior Reginald Martin, who recently won the school's prestigious Principal's Leadership Award. "They stood there saying they wanted the board to work with parents, but they wouldn't even stay while the board went about [its] business."
And once again, the children of Central were left behind.