Tyrone bragged that his friend brought a gun to school. In the six months I’d known him he’d told me a few tales, like he and his little brother went to Winter Wonderland at Navy Pier. He didn’t have a little brother, but I often held my confrontational tongue with him in an effort to give him space to be himself.
He was my 7-year-old charge in the weekly volunteer tutoring program at church. During our first getting-to-know-you session in October we followed a Q & A script developed by the program administrators. We both had dogs. He had a baby sister. I had grandchildren. He went to a school on Chicago’s west side. I was not sure who mothered him, an aunt or grandmother. He proudly mentioned his father. He wasn’t explicit, and looked away in silence when I pressed for details. I eased off to save him from having to make something up. And really, I didn’t want to know.
The tutoring session consists of helping kids with their homework, creating art projects and playing board games. Tyrone didn’t need help with homework. I guided him while he wrote down answers to math problems and filled in words in sentences. He never got anything wrong, and I praised him for being so smart. I helped him put his homework neatly in his backpack. I wanted to help him straighten other things in his backpack, but he balked at that intrusion. He often hid a football or basketball in there and feared others would see. I surmised he was prohibited from bringing balls to school, and he thought they may be forbidden at tutoring as well. Maybe he was afraid for other reasons.
When I quizzed him about the details of the gun, he said he saw it in his friend’s backpack, that his friend found it in the backyard and that it had bullets in it. I asked if he told his teacher. “No! He’s my best friend!”
Research finds youth from risk-filled backgrounds who successfully transition to the adult world of employment and good citizenship have had the consistent presence of a caring adult. Tutoring programs give kids this opportunity. As a first-time tutor, I attended orientation where consistency and trust were emphasized. I committed myself to years-long care and support of Tyrone, with whom I’d connected in the church’s summer program. I thought if I earned his trust, eventually he’d stop trying to beguile me with fanciful stories.
I doubted Tyrone’s tale about the gun, but guns-in-schools is an issue that I can’t bear alone. I told a supervisor. She knew Tyrone’s caregiver and contacted her. The next week he came to tutoring with his sidestep story: his friend brought gum to school. A few days after that Tyrone dropped out of tutoring.
Benign doubt can slip seamlessly into fearful caution and consequential actions. Did I do the right thing in reporting Tyrone’s confidence? I doubt it.