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.

THIS NEW BLOW was so large that it forced all those involved to reassess their previous positions. Most notably, Harold’s mother, Nicky, enrolled him in a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia study of kids with ADHD. “I wanted to see him do it on his own,” she says. “But when this happened, I realized he needs a little bit of help.”

 
For his part, Harold doesn’t like hearing that he has ADHD. “I get mad,” he says. “Because people keep saying there’s something wrong with me.” As for the fight with the girls, Harold dismisses total responsibility: “They were messing with me.”
 
Harold will face these next few critical years without his father, who pleaded guilty in January to dealing crack and faces a minimum sentence of two years.
 
In the weeks after she forbade him to attend classes, Jennifer Donohue sent schoolwork to Harold’s house while Nicky began searching for a new school. And when Pajama Day arrived, Donohue invited Harold back for a visit. Harold wore pajamas with racing cars on them — his favorite. He visited with his old classmates, but spent most of the day working on his lessons. He evaded supervision long enough to fling open some classroom doors and say hello. But as bad behavior goes, that was small beans. And as the school day moved toward its end, Donohue was feeling pretty good about having invited him. Then some of his old classmates arrived outside her office. They spoke to her out of Harold’s earshot.
 
“Harold stole something,” they said.
 
They said a student saw Harold rooting in another boy’s desk. But at the time they claimed this happened, Harold had been with Donohue. The kids, she realized, were lying. Donohue had been thinking about letting Harold return to Hope. But now she knew: At 11 years old, he already needed a fresh start, because his behavior had turned his classmates against him.  
 
She didn’t discuss any of this with Harold, and at the end of the day he asked her: “Can I come back?”
 
“No,” she told him.     
 
She could see that Harold was upset. His high cheekbones, so prominent when he smiles, sink when he’s sad. “We’re not a good fit for you anymore,” she said. “But you can always come see us.”
 
Harold brightened a little at that. What he seemed to need most was to know that Donohue still liked him. He finished his homework. And a few minutes later, she watched him leave.
 

HAROLD ARRIVES HOME around 4 p.m., wearing a Rocawear jacket and a black cap. The temperature is plummeting, so he walks fast, west on Clearfield, till he reaches 29th Street. He stops at a house near Allegheny. It’s January of 2009, and his family sleeps here now, at a cousin’s house. It’s quieter, and though it isn’t even 10 minutes’ walk from his old house, it feels safer. The homes are better maintained. A brick church sits across the street on a spacious lot. But Nicky is considering moving the family to a big house at 8th and Indiana, the Badlands, which will subject them to increased danger. And Harold is attending school at Ethel Allen again. In February, the CHOP study starts. Nicky anticipates that Harold will be back on ADHD medication. And she’s looking for the right school for him. Until then, he’ll make do in the public school system.

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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!