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.

They’ve been together since high school, coupled for 15 years, and Harold Sr. is the father of Nicky’s four children. The Allegheny West neighborhood in which they’ve attempted to forge a life for themselves is among the most violent and drug-infested in Philadelphia. They live in a house owned by her mother. That the house serves as an oasis for family movie night is a special victory here, rendered all the more evident by the way her children learned, so young, to read the streets. “They know,” says Nicky, “that if the streets kind of pick up, and it just doesn’t feel right, to come tell me. And I say, ‘All right, baby, you just stay in for a while.’”
Harold has proven to be her biggest challenge in terms of finding him a school and keeping him there. She initially enrolled him, like her other children, at First Philadelphia. In the third grade, however, fights became routine. Rather than expel the boy, the principal asked that he withdraw. Nicky enrolled Harold in the fourth grade at Ethel Allen, a Philadelphia public school, as a kind of stop-gap, while she continued looking for something better. But this time the boy helped himself: Without his mother’s knowledge, he wrote a letter to his old First Philadelphia principal, Stacey Cruise-Clarke. “I knew he wrote it without his mother,” says Cruise-Clarke. “Because believe me, I get a lot of letters parents write for their children. This was different. You could tell it was a child expressing his feelings. He told me how much he didn’t like his new school, and how sorry he was, that he’d do better and he wanted to come back.”
In response, Cruise-Clarke contacted an old colleague who had worked at First Philadelphia with Harold, and who had since become principal at Hope Partnership. Nicky enrolled her son immediately.