4th grade

wow… what a disparity… i find this project fascinating and heartbreaking.  i also can’t help but think that there is a direct correlation between the racist advertising of old and the wide gulf between the experience of the predominantly white private school fourth grader and that of the student in the predominantly black inner city public school.

Drastically Different 4th Grade Stories

Two years ago, Judy Gelles was volunteering at an inner city public school and was assigned to a fourth-grade class. The school was as diverse as they come with children from African American, Hispanic and Asian immigrants. After several months of helping the students with their reading skills, she felt the need to connect with them on a deeper level. Mostly, she wanted to find out their stories.

She asked each student the following three questions:
Whom do they live with?
What do they wish for?
What do they worry about?

Inner City School USA

African-American, Hispanic, and Asian immigrants make up the fabric of this school. The majority of the children are African American. Many students come from broken families and live in dangerous neighborhoods. This is a “lock down” school. The gray fortress main door of the school becomes a blank slate for the students’ words. Their stories capture the gamut of societal issues: violence, immigration, the demise of the nuclear family, and the impact of the media and popular culture.

The biggest takeaway? “Family is extremely important to all children,” Gelles said. “They all need parents and relatives who care for them and look out for their future.”

After Judy Gelles learned about the deeply troubling stories of inner city 4th graders, she became even more curious. What were 4th grade children experiencing in different schools not just in the US but around the world? Across cultures, which values remained the same and which were starkly different? She not only compared an inner city school with a private one in the United States, she traveled abroad to India and China.


Caucasian, African-American, Latino, and Asian students make up the fabric of the school. The majority of the children are Caucasian. The white clapboard main door of the school becomes a blank slate for their words. Most of these students love their school, come from two-parent families, and feel protected by their parents. They have high expectations of themselves, and worry about the negative effects of war, hunger, and global warming. A silent worship service for students and teachers takes place once a week from 8:30am to 9:00am. Anyone is allowed to share a message during this service.

These were her findings:

Inner city schools in the US have many problems due to the children’s chaotic family structure.
Students in the private schools in the US are more fortunate.
Students in China value education, and are extremely close to their parents.
In India, kindness, moral values, family, and education are highly valued.


2 thoughts on “4th grade

  1. This is such a powerful piece. As a mom it tears me up to hear stories like this. I’m glad you’re back to blogging! I have been neglecting my Passing Plecker blog a bit because I’ve started a podcast. I’m hoping I can keep up an maintain both.

    Thanks again for sharing this and always having such thought-provoking posts.

  2. Brilliant!! And very moving…before judging, we should always consider the fact that everyone did not grow up the same. And that there are challenges that some children face before they even step into the building. How can they focus on what the teacher is giving them with all of this weight lying heavy on their minds and little hearts?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s