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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Ahead of the game
Soaring in reading and math, and adding a fifth language, Jordan loves school.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007
Trinity is Jordan Chabowski's home during the school year, but he lives in Warsaw the rest of the time. His mother and sister are here but his father remains in Poland.
[STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times]
[STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times]
Jordan, 8, loves Trinity Elementary, with its flag football and multiage classrooms. The third-grader from Poland speaks four languages.
TRINITY -- Sitting at the computer, his left arm draped across the top of his paper as he took notes about the Bill of Rights, Artur Jordan Chabowski looked to be just like any other kid at Trinity Elementary.
In his logo T-shirt, faded shorts and Fila tennis shoes, the freckle-faced 8-year-old with shoulder-length hair didn't seem to be from Poland, any more than the boy sitting behind him necessarily came from India or the girl two seats down hailed from Russia.
He doesn't even have an accent.
But start listening as the youngster discusses his thoughts about school, or his goals and aspirations, and you quickly find that he's no ordinary kid. Though he'll protest that he is.
Jordan, as he prefers to be called, speaks Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and English, and is working on French. He reads with the proficiency of a middle schooler and he does math at a sixth-grade level. And he loves his American school.
He likes that the teachers come to school before the kids arrive, and that they're available to offer help. He likes seeing his principal every day, and the fact that the principal knows kids by face and name. He even likes the way classrooms are set up so everything has its place.
Mostly, Jordan likes that Trinity Elementary challenges him. It wasn't that way back in Poland, even at the private schools his parents tried after becoming dissatisfied with the public schools.
"This school has more things to do that are on my level," Jordan said. "There are a lot of people I can talk to. I think there are more smart people here."
Back in Poland, where he still lives when not in school, the education system did not impress the young man. He recently went to classes with his friends, and was struck by how unprofessional the teacher was.
"The teacher was almost like a big kid, yelling," Jordan said.
The children responded by shouting back, and the situation just escalated. As a result, he said, "they would get about as much done (in a day) as we could in an hour."
Children in the French class never got around to speaking French. Teachers treated youngsters as babies, unable to take on any responsibilities. And did he mention the screaming?
"The whole hall was filled with kids. Every child was screaming," he recalled.
Not appropriate for a boy who writes detailed letters to his teachers when he has questions about their lessons.
So how did Jordan end up at Trinity Elementary, which has become the home to many families from other nations?
When his sister Laura was born 5 years ago, she had a congenital heart defect. Her Polish doctors did all they could, and then told their parents, Artur Chabowski and Lynn Moses, that Laura should spend winters elsewhere. Mom had Italy in mind. The doctors were thinking of Florida.
One of Laura's surgeons had contacts at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, so the family came over. They looked for a home within decent driving distance of the hospital, but before settling on one, they interviewed school principals. Moses walked away so pleased after meeting Trinity principal Kathryn Rushe that she made an offer on a home around the corner minutes later.
It had crossed the parents' minds to have Jordan remain in Poland with Dad, who continues to run a business over there and sees his wife and children only infrequently. But in the end, the family decided an American education was best.
"He just thinks it's the right place for his children to be," Moses said of her husband, a native Pole. "He wants them to grow up as Americans."
And Moses, who grew up in the Northeast, wanted her children to have a schooling experience like the one she had, where teachers challenged kids at their level rather than pigeonholing them in a grade. She was drawn to Pasco's multiage classrooms and continuous progress model, and to Rushe's interpretation of how to make it happen.
So now the family straddles two worlds.
Jordan said he tries to make it work to his advantage. He uses his knowledge of languages to help him figure out what some English words mean, for instance, though it's still kind of weird to him that everyone speaks English all the time. And he has yet to get caught up in many American cultural things -- he barely watches TV, for example -- so he can focus on reading, the outdoors and other interests.
He hopes to be a math teacher someday.
Trinity teachers said they love the diversity that Jordan and so many other children bring to their campus. Their cultural experiences and different sets of circumstances add a richness to the classroom.
"But as far as the way I teach," said Tanya Getty, Jordan's teacher, "they're all students."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.