After a call from Rikers, a principal wonders how to stay in touch

As inspiring as success stories can be, all too often city students struggle and then fall through the cracks.

Harlem Link Charter School principal Steven Evangelista saw this reality up close recently when he heard from a student he had tried, and failed, to locate since 2001. The student, Tom, was calling from Rikers Island.

In the community section, Evangelista argues that making it easier for teachers to stay in touch with students like Tom could change the students’ lives. He writes:

Each year, through various public and private agencies, our educational and correctional systems have spent tens of thousands of public dollars on Tom’s education and rehabilitation. Talking with him on that phone call from jail, I learned that the pattern I first observed with him in 2001 — when well-meaning social workers, psychologists and teachers based both at his school and the Administration for Children’s Services disappeared from his life with the stroke of a pen and a transfer to a new setting — would continue as service providers flitted in and out of his life. … Maybe there is nothing I could have done to help Tom along the way. I don’t know. But I do know that I don’t understand a world in which a child could be so short on support that Rikers seems an inevitable destination. I also don’t understand a world in which, despite all of the agencies, all the social workers in and out of Tom’s life, all the hearings, I was maybe the one person looking for him, and I couldn’t find him until it seemed far too late.