Over the past several years, some friends and I have brought financial gifts to high school students during the Christmas season.
These teenagers were chosen because of their economic situations. That includes tough living conditions and some heartbreaking financial challenges.
But these are wonderful young people and parents. They have been dealt a tough hand, but they are desperately trying to make it.
We often wonder what their lives would be like if they lived in neighborhoods with nice houses, where the worst thing you would see on the street would be a tipped-over trash can.
We want our gifts to prompt smiles and actually help. And boy, do they. There is something else. What we see can be wrenching.
Consider teenagers being raised by a 20-year-old, the oldest person in the house. Or a child with literally no furniture in the house in a strange neighborhood because his former house has burned down.
One young man set his money aside to help get a bed to sleep in. No cellphone, video game or clothes for him.
There were two brothers living in a house where there were two beds in a small room that would normally be a living room. They and their mom cried when they received the gift. Looking around, I wondered: Where would they do homework?
Then there was the grandmother who fell to her knees in tears when she saw the money her grandchild was being given. I was almost in tears when I helped her up, begging her not to do that.
Now get this. Sometime later this year, these children will take a standardized test that is supposed to measure their aptitude. They are going to be judged by the score on that test, and so is their school.
There are dozens, and maybe hundreds, in the same situation as these young people at that local school, and surely at several others.
One young man did not have a TV or any furniture that matched in his house.
What I do know is that these children have a lot more to deal with other than reading, writing and arithmetic. So many of them are trying to make it to the next day — and hopefully, the next week.
Even trying their best and with the diligent assistance from their schoolteacher, many of them will probably score low on the test. The school will have a poor overall showing.
The media will say what a poor school this is because of the low scores. Observers will laud the sparkling score of the schools where tens of millions of dollars have been provided for construction of facilities and even more for the state-of-the-art technology to keep those students on par with their successful counterparts.
These schools have more violins that some poorer schools have trumpets.
The public isn't soon likely to address some of the other problems that affect these students and the schools, some of which are dealing with incredibly tough learning conditions.
My group implores the public, school board members and others to witness in person the vast difference in what is supplied to those schools and the difference in the school population. They should actually visit the schools and assess fairness before pointing fingers.
Maybe they would argue for improvements and have a better idea of the reasons for low scores.
You can also count on the for-profit schools to pound on the scores to swoop down and say they can do better — until they don’t.
My friends and I don’t cast aspersions. We know a lot of what is going on, and we will continue to try to brighten smiles for as many children as we can. We know the game is stacked against them.
Maybe, at some point, real solutions will be brought into those schools and communities. But it’s always better that everyone pitch in to help everyone.
Or, if all else fails, let’s improve the living and learning situation by offering those hurting communities something a little better than a state-of-the-art tire-shredding facility.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column at firstname.lastname@example.org.