“Bea,” I said, “I have a pregnant student—”
“I remember when I had a pregnant student,” she interrupted, “We went on a trip to the mid-Manhattan library and it started raining. Not just raining. Pouring like flood levels. And we all started to run and then realized we couldn’t because Anabel was with us. So we put our arms around her and surrendered to the sky.”
There was no head-shaking, no pitying, no judging.
The next time I saw Milagros, I apologized.
Bea stuck a leathery finger in Principal Mitchell's face.
"The kids need a newspaper," she insisted.
"I don't have the money for it, Bea."
"Find it, Barbara! What's a school without a paper?"
Bea could be direct with Ms. Mitchell because they were close. Bea found herself mentoring Ms. Mitchell’s teachers the most and having a better rapport with her than with the other principals.
Ms. Mitchell had been an outstanding assistant principal, but after Dr. Sorrento left abruptly to transform another school, she’d been overwhelmed by her new role. She was struggling with budget cuts, student violence, a cantankerous staff, and conflicts with the other principals in the building. Under the Bloomberg administration’s new A-F progress reports, the school was on its way to a failing grade.
"Imagine how good it'll look when Amelia Gonzalez visits," Bea winked. At the mention of the superintendent, Ms. Mitchell gave in. When Bea asked me to spearhead the paper with her, I agreed.
Because Bea hadn't been in front of a classroom for some time, she was a little out of touch with certain colloquialisms. For instance, when we told the students that they would be the newspaper's writers and editors, Kelvin responded, "Dead-ass?"
"Dead-ass?" Bea repeated, dumbfounded.
I called upon Kelvin and his best friend, Jamal, to use the term in a sentence.
“Yo, I swear Kim Kardashian jumped the fence for a Krispy Creme,” Kelvin said.
“Nah uh, you lyin'!” Jamal exclaimed.
“No, for real! I'm dead-ass,” Kelvin countered.
A light went on in Bea's eyes. "Yes, you're putting this newspaper together. I'm dead-ass about that. I'm serious.” Bea soon learned that "ass" could be added to pretty much any adjective: Dumb-ass. Crazy-ass. Lazy-ass. Ghetto-ass.
"If I'd known this was all about the ass, I would’ve done more squats," Bea cracked.
Soon, we were dealing with Shameka, who happened to be a smart-ass. When she did well her first semester and I rewarded her with a $15 gift card to Barnes and Noble, she thanked me with, "They sell weed there?” Yet Bea gave her a meaty assignment—a profile of Principal Mitchell.
I worried that Shameka would be inappropriate and unprofessional. Yet Bea trusted her implicitly, and she had infinitely more experience with journalism than I did, having headed many student newspapers over the years. One of her students had written an investigative piece on gangs in the 1980s, at the height of the gang era in Washington Heights, and won a National Pacemeker Award, the Pulitzer Prize of student journalism, along with a full ride to NYU.