‘Miracle on Southwest Boulevard’
The children of Eugene Field participate in activities and gardening projects at Global Gardens.
Courtesy of Global Gardens
What happens when God drops a self-described “white, middle-class woman who drinks wine and says the occasional curse word” into one of Tulsa’s most challenged elementary schools? Cindi Hemm (with her daughter Katie Hemm Kinder) paints the picture in vivid color and heart-wrenching detail in the 2011 book, “Miracle on Southwest Boulevard,” which chronicles her time as principal at Eugene Field Elementary School.
At the beginning of the tale, Hemm is wrenched from her comfortable place in a stable middle-class elementary school to take over as principal at Eugene Field, which has a 97 percent poverty rate and a 92 percent rate of mobility: the number of times a child moves schools.
In the first few chapters, the reader careens with Hemm from incident to incident exemplifying the challenges she finds there — from students and teachers who curse at each other, to physical violence, to ceilings that literally fall in on students’ heads. Student behavior is out of control and test scores are worse. But step by step, with patience, perseverance and a measure of stubbornness, Hemm calls on the community, her colleagues and most of all, her faith in God, to raise expectations and improve results.
Hemm reveals a healthy measure of relentless advocacy and a form of bending the rules that she calls “positive deviance.” As a result, new resources pour in. By the end of the book, Hemm and her hard-won school community are celebrating many achievements, including a new school building, a beautiful community garden, higher test scores and an award-winning early childhood center.
But despite the celebration, the reader retains the awareness that every day continues to be a battle when loving and serving students from one of the poorest districts in Tulsa.
Readers outside the field of education may have previously heard such terms as “teaching to the test,” “community schools” and “year-round school,” but they take on whole new meanings within the context of Hemm’s storytelling.
She describes in vivid detail how students living in poverty don’t benefit from long summer vacations and traditional class days. She explains how school uniforms and “brain-based classrooms” can help calm and focus children. She asks out loud why students from nearby affluent schools should have better playground equipment and nicer facilities than her students.
Although not highly polished in its narrative style, the book has an authenticity of voice that pulls readers in and causes them to wish it were longer than its scant 120 pages. A fast read, this book teaches more about the topic of urban education than a vast number of more academic volumes on the subject.
“Miracle on Southwest Boulevard” is available at Amazon.com as well as from the publisher, West Bow Press, and other online retailers.