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.


WHEN THE CLASS is given a series of math problems to work on individually, Harold finishes long before the other kids. At Ethel Allen, with 30 children or more in a class, Harold’s smarts actually worked against him. With nothing to do, and a teacher too busy putting out fires, he let his hyperactivity push him from his seat, and bad things happened. At Hope, they treat his early finishes as an opportunity — to give him positive reinforcement for being so good at math, and also to work off some of his excess energy. Seeing Harold with his pencil on his desk and his hand in the air, his teacher, Carlin Biondo, says evenly, “Harold, you can help the other students.”

Harold stands up and finds a classmate who needs help with basic long division. Leaning over her desk, he whispers to her, settled and still from the waist up, while beneath him his legs jump around like they’re trying to get away, dancing in a crazy, incessant figure-eight pattern. This inability to remain still is actually a fairly innocuous outgrowth of his ADHD. The more extreme problem, common to all hyperactive kids, is his impulsivity. When combined with Harold’s other risk factors, hyperactivity creates a particularly toxic stew. In practical terms, it means he might just throw himself on the floor in the middle of class — or steal something from a classmate or teacher — simply because the thought to do so arises in his mind.
Considering the circumstances, with his father in jail, Harold’s mom and his teachers are pretty happy with how things are going for Harold. Part of his success, no doubt, is attributable to Hope Partnership. Located six blocks east of Broad Street, off Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Hope is a private, secular school founded by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and the Sisters of Mercy, and funded by donations. The school’s mission isn’t to take in the city’s worst kids, nor its most gifted, but children who for one reason or another have struggled in previous schools. (Most possess at least average intelligence.) In practice, what this means is that these kids have almost all been wounded in some way — at home, on the streets, or in their previous schools. And Harold is far from the only child with behavioral issues.
One girl told me just how bad her experience in public schools had been, calling them “hell” while a group of students surrounding her nodded assent. But I watched this same girl, a few weeks later, go ballistic on a classmate during a game of jump-rope. For no apparent reason, she hopped on top of her rival, pinned her on her back, and started swinging, reducing the other girl to breathless tears by the time she was pulled away, smiling as though she’d just had the time of her life.