What Will Happen to Harold?

He lives in one of the worst sections of Philadelphia. His father is in prison. He’s washed out of two schools. He has ADHD. He’s been caught stealing. He gets into fights. Child advocates say this is a crucial time to turn his life around, before it’s too late. He’s 11 years old.

The boy is clearly messing with Harold. But Harold doesn’t seem to understand that. “Nooo,” he says sincerely, lacking the other boy’s guile.
 
The summer was tough on Harold. His father’s trial was delayed. He attended a summer camp for underprivileged kids from which he came home early, his behavior judged too difficult to manage. For long stretches of time he seems to lack affect, as if emotion is beyond his reach. He smiles less. And in class, in front of the new kids, he’s growing increasingly out of control. At one point, in the middle of a geography lesson, he flaps his hands repeatedly in front of his face and shakes his head back and forth, as if he’s trying to relieve a storm of excess energy. After this goes on for a few seconds, several kids take notice, alerting one another to the spectacle before Harold settles.
 
Such behavior isn’t unusual for hyperactive children, and they often find themselves ostracized by classmates for behaving bizarrely. According to Donohue, Harold has also started showing signs of oppositional defiance — another common symptom of ADHD, in which kids stop cooperating with authority figures. In Harold, this manifested ominously when he stole some money from a teacher’s desk, admitted the deed, and wrote a note of apology that demonstrated he didn’t really comprehend the import of what he’d done: “I hope you still like me … your friend, Harold.”
 
At one point, Harold’s mother asked him if he was going to turn out like his father. “No,” he told her.
 
“On the path you’re on now,” she said, “doing the things you’re doing — yeah.”
 
Nicky’s own sense of urgency was reflected in the way she refused to sugar over her son’s increasingly bad behavior; she knows all too well what the risks are for him. But at this stage in his development — just turned 11 in June, with a father in jail, living on a block where gunfire is a common ­occurrence — Harold is like a piece of plankton, going wherever the tides carry him. And in September, when his classmates were keeping their distance from him, Harold had a child’s version of a meltdown.
 
He was waiting for the bus with a few girls from Hope. No one can be certain what triggered the dispute, but they exchanged insults, and Harold wound up getting on the bus alone. Maybe the weeks of feeling increasingly distanced from classmates got to him, because he got off the bus just one stop later. Walking back toward the girls, he started throwing whatever he could reach — rocks, sticks, mulch to dirty their clothes. One of the girls got dramatic, pulling out her cell phone and calling her mother for help. Harold hollered “Shut up!” and started swinging. He punched her in the back of the head, and when she turned toward him, he punched her in the face.
 
One of the girls ran for help.
 
Harold ran away.
 
The following school day, Hope Partnership’s principal, Jennifer Donohue, told Harold’s mother that he couldn’t come back.

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  • Katie

    This article absolutely broke my heart-but I loved it. Are you planning to check in on Harold in the near future? Pieces like this make me want to get involved in the Philadelphia community…

    THANK YOU!