Cornelius loved reading in kindergarten. Math was easy in first grade. “You could say two numbers, and I would subtract ‘em and multiply ‘em and add ‘em in my head, give you three answers in a matter of seconds.”
Why did he drop out of high school? In Butterflies in the Hallway, part of the Education Trust’s Echoes from the Gap series, Brooke Haycock uses interviews and school records to tell Cornelius’ story of failure, disengagement and more failure.
Cornelius had trouble reading “bigger books” in fourth grade. He was too embarrassed to ask for help. By fifth grade, he was getting in trouble with a friend who also was struggling. It “felt better than feeling stupid alone,” he told Haycock
At a middle school where violence was common, Cornelius began cutting gym class to avoid older boys who he feared would beat him up.
“He never skipped math, the class where he always felt smart,” but he started cutting classes that required reading.
His friends, other “lost boys,” would “just run around the school.” Sometimes he got detention, but nobody tried to find out why he was skipping.
The youngest of nine children, Cornelius was raised by his grandmother. The summer after sixth grade, she died. “I just stopped caring. I felt like there was no one there to enforce rules on me or to make me sit down and do my homework. No one to care.”
He lived with his aunt and two brothers for several years.
Recognizing Cornelius’ artistic talent, a new principal invited the seventh grader to lead the school’s mural painting team at a district competition. Cornelius was thrilled.
But he couldn’t read well enough to do school work. “I started getting further and further behind. And I just lost interest. I felt like I was too far behind.”
He got into fights, which led to suspensions.
In high school, he was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and placed in special ed classes. Then he was suspended for cutting class.
Some of Cornelius’ teachers tried to help, but he’d given up.
He moved to a group home and a new school for his second try at ninth grade. He failed again. At 17, still in ninth grade, Cornelius dropped out.
If he’d received help with his reading skills in third or fourth grade, could Cornelius have been saved?