By Jennifer Mayer
Unlike most 8-year-old girls who dream about their futures and play with Barbies, Sally fends for herself and cares for her family where needed.
Since the time she was 6, Sally has kept house, prepared meals and grocery shopped for her mother, who has been diagnosed with severe diabetes and works 10-hour shifts every day. Sally has little time to be a child.
Sally”s father rarely brings in enough money to support the family, and Sally”s life is lost in torrents of adversity.
She, like many children of her inner city elementary school classmates, takes on responsibilities far beyond her years.
Robert Bullough, director of the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling (CITES), has documented Sally”s life along with the lives of 33 other children in the Lafayette Elementary School located in Salt Lake City.
“These kids literally raise themselves,” Bullough said.
Sally is a fictional name used by Bullough in his book, but Sally and her dilemma are reality.
Sally is one of many real-life children Bullough portrays in “Uncertain Lives: Children of Promise, Teachers of Hope,” a book about the lives, hopes and dreams of Utah”s poor children.
Bullough visited with these children daily for a year in order to understand the suffering and hardships faced by children in inner city developments.
“I worry about a lot of kids,” Bullough said. “Our country is a mean place for children.”
Unfortunately, one out of nine children at Sally”s facility come from battered women”s shelters, drug rehabilitation programs and transit housing.
“Hundreds of thousands of children – probably millions – have been born to lousy parents: drugged, lazy, uneducated, bitter, slovenly, indifferent, dishonest, disengaged and selfish,” Bullough said.
Death of a family member, parental neglect and starvation are only a few of the issues Bullough covered in his work.
The book, which recently received national recognition by Choice magazine as an outstanding academic title for 2002, focuses on these children and the hope given to them as they attend a school under government funding.
“It attacks some of the stereotypes of poor kids and messy lives that do amazing things,” Bullough said.
According to Bullough, too many children in Utah live in poverty and too many people do not understand the severity of the situation.
Utah currently has the third highest percentage of children born in poverty, according to www.childrensdefense.org. One in 10 of Utah”s children are living at or below the poverty line.
Bullough states in his book that “large numbers of children go to bed hungry at night or are at-risk of hunger.”
Thirty-seven percent of all children under the age 12 in California, 25 percent in Utah, 39 percent in Louisana, 27 percent in Ohio and 31 percent in New York fall into this category, according to Bullough.
For a child who may or may not get dinner, school lunch may be their best meal of the day, he said.
The book focuses on both those who are doing well in school and those who are struggling, he said.
Part of Bullough”s book focuses on the contribution of dedicated teachers, Bullough said.
“The lights are on early in the morning and late at night,” Bullough said. “The teachers are heavily invested in the students, and the children are doing better than they should be doing.”
With meager wages and long hours, teachers at Lafayette are the adults in the lives in their students, Bullough said.
“The situation at Lafayette has gotten worse,” Bullough said. “Large number of children is in serious trouble – with unraveling families.”
Now under threat of closure, Lafayette Elementary School receives all revenues for sales of Bullough”s book.
Each time the school receives its revenues the faculty and staff give students an experience they would be unable to have otherwise, Bullough said.
Although it wasn”t a lot, the last time the school received its revenue money, the students attended a play, Bullough said.
“Many of the students had never seen a play before,” Bullough said. “It was a unique opportunity for them.”
Published in late 2001, the book has been used nationally in workshops and conference sessions.
“Over the past decade, with perhaps more fervor than ever before, our nation”s educators have sought explanations for the poor academic achievement that persists among many of our children, particularly those who are most ”at risk,”” said Professor Lea Hubbard from the University of California in a review of Bullough”s book.
According to Hubbard, the book shows the reader how children struggle to obtain education while struggling to survive with possibly the only hope for those children their teachers.
“Faced with uncertain lives children come to the schoolhouse door with optimism, expectations and promise but all too often, physical and emotional needs interrupt their readiness to learn,” Hubbard said. “Bullough suggests that the solution lies in part with the educators who teach children.”
More attention has been garnered through songwriter Mark Bake, who wrote a song about the children in the book. Bullough said he heard the song for the first time a couple of months ago.
After working for 20 years at the University of Utah as an emeritus professor of educational studies, Bullough has continued his interest in children”s education through his work at BYU with CITES, which currently has a partnership with five of Utah”s school districts.
“It is a vehicle to work closely and to work better with teacher education,” he said.
Currently, CITES also has a partnership with the National Network for Educational Renewal.
“What else is there to do if you want to make the world better,” Bullough said.