Last Friday I had a fire in my apartment. Everyone is fine, thank God, and I’ve been taking care of the clean-up, paperwork and phone calls that come along with having a fire in one’s home.
I paused from these duties to check my emails and, much to my surprise, I saw the picture above with the heading “Kedrick Screen, Jr. Graduates.” The tears just flowed. I was Kedrick’s English teacher for eighth and ninth grade. From the beginning, he struck me as a very reserved, hard-working young man. He had an “it” factor to him and I believe he knew that but was just super-humble. I liked that. He worked hard to get good grades. It didn’t come easy for him but he had an unrivaled tenacity.
Kedrick was and still is an exceptional football player. Everyone knew that. He would take the discipline he learned on the field and apply it to his life off the field. His schoolwork was no exception. His father, Mr. Kedrick Screen, was a well-known football coach. Any kid in South Jamaica who played for or against the Rosedale Jets football team knew and loved Coach Screen, aka Kedrick’s dad.
I recall meeting Mr. Screen at the first parent-teacher conference of that eighth-grade year. He was very invested in his son’s education and overall well-being. It was evident why so many of the students flocked to him, some even envying Kedrick for having such an awesome dad who actually took an interest in him.
Kedrick was one of the nicest students I’ve ever taught. A few times I would see him in the community on the weekends doing laundry with his mom and grandma. I remember one time in particular when we folded our clothes together and I commented on how impressed I was with him for helping out his family in that way. His grandma and mom heard me and smiled wide smiles as they proudly told me that he was also quite the chef! I’m a foodie so I made Kedrick promise that he would cook for me one day!
After that, that was our running joke. Whenever we saw each other in the halls I would ask him, “Where’s my mac & cheese and jerk chicken?” We laughed. It felt good to bond with my student in that way.
‘Please Take Care of Our Son’
Then tragedy struck. Kedrick’s father died suddenly on the football field one day during practice. The entire community was floored. Kedrick, a real trooper, put on a good face and a strong determined demeanor that his father had instilled in him, and made it through the wake, funeral and burial without incident.
It’s like he grew up overnight and bearing his beloved father’s name took on a new, more honorable meaning. His mother, broken-down and distraught, hugged me as I paid my respects and whispered in my ear, “Please take care of our son,” she said. I promised that I would.
Shortly after his father was laid to rest, Kedrick and his family moved to Georgia. It was the middle of his 11th-grade year—the most important year of high school, many say. Kedrick acclimated well and would come back to New York and visit us often. Whenever he came back to New York, he always made a point of coming to my classroom to visit me; his friends would often tell me if they spoke to him that he asked after me. I would email him from time to time, too, just to check in. I felt special. I knew that I had made a positive impact on Kedrick’s life. He knew I cared about him like a son. He was making me a better teacher and person, too.
I didn’t know this at the time but there is a lot of science behind the depth and impact of the student-teacher relationship on both parties. According to an overview of research by Mark and Christine Boynton: “The most powerful weapon available to secondary teachers who want to foster a favorable learning climate is a positive relationship with [their] students.” And “students will never trust us or open themselves up to hear what [teachers] have to say unless they sense that [their teachers] value and respect them.”
I received today’s email from Kedrick Screen, Jr., announcing his graduation from high school. I couldn’t be prouder of him if he was my own son. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him to achieve this milestone in his life without the physical presence of his father but somehow he did it. Kedrick, this one’s for you.