Sunday, May 21, 2000

Boost for schools: Families who care

Gordons push education

        Calamity is a way of life for the Gordon family.

        Their car dies, and they can't afford a replacement. Mom needs surgery. Dad's eye gets sliced by a kid playing Frisbee with a coffee-can lid.

        Rent payments fall behind. The family has to move again.

        Through it all, there has been one constant: The Gordons' concern for the education of their daughters.

        “I want better for them,” Marsha Gordon says.

        Candice, 12, made all As this year. She joined three clubs at Sixth District Elementary School and was named one of 13 student leaders districtwide.

        Last week I explained how Covington schools re flect community problems. I promised a more hopeful tale this week. That would be the Gordons.

        They care. So does Sixth District Elementary and its volunteers. With such collaboration, some children can succeed no matter what their circumstances.

        Mrs. Gordon makes $7 an hour as a maid. Her husband, Jim, earns $10 as a maintenance man. Without a car, they take the bus or walk everywhere. They rarely get the same days off.

        On a recent evening, everyone helped Candice build a volcano for school.

        “The clay didn't have anything to support it,” Mrs. Gordon says. “So Dad sawed a (plastic) champagne glass in half.”

        Candice's teacher, Carol Rene Masden, started a book group this year. Candice and other students read on their own time, and volunteers participated in lunchtime discussions.

        Sixth District also is one of four schools working closely with the Covington Community Center. The school's doors stay open after hours so families can drop in and students can participate in clubs.

        The idea is sound: Strengthen the neighborhood, and academics improve.

        But it's no quick fix. The clubs, which include Girl Scouts, have been slow to catch on. And one recent night, Mrs. Gordon was one of the only parents present for the unveiling of a community art project.

        She wills herself to attend such events, because “It's important for us to support our kids.” But after a hard days' work, it isn't easy.

        Nothing is.

        Sara Gordon, 13, has struggled at Holmes Junior High School, where discipline problems have drawn criticism from state officials. The school's best asset is its Youth Services Center, Mrs. Gordon says. She used it to get help for Sara, who ended up in a self-esteem class at a non-profit agency.

        Mrs. Gordon was proud. She knows about perseverance, having kicked a drug habit and earned her GED in the early '90s. In parenting classes, she learned the importance of setting goals.

        Candice wrote hers in a notebook this year. Among them: Write neater. Try not to get sidetracked.

        Sara made a poster. Lots of shoes, a phone, a nice room....

        Mrs. Gordon still has a few goals of her own.

        “Someday I think I'm going to be a manager of a restaurant,” she says. “I encourage the girls to dream.”

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or


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