• April 3, 2015
If it were not for Ruby Pearl Smith McClendon, 15 lost students would never have graduated.
On February 23rd, Ruby passed away. Having left her beloved Mississippi in the late 1970s, Ruby embarked upon a remarkable 31 year career in the Rochester City School District, retiring in 2010. She seemingly did everything for everybody, serving as a teacher, drug educational specialist, school counselor, assistant principal, grant writer, director of pupil personnel services, student day care center overseer, special education specialist and school administrator. Tireless to the end of her career, one of Ruby’s last valuable contributions was her leadership in a credit recovery special project.
All too often, overwhelmed by life problems and sometimes feeling unsupported, students simply stop coming to school. After a while, they essentially disappear from the system, under-credited, over-aged, discouraged and disillusioned. Undeterred, Ruby took it upon herself to help.
First, these students faced daunting obstacles: teen pregnancy, homelessness, catastrophic illness, legal and immigration status problems, prematurely and unexpectedly becoming the head of household, extreme financial pressures, ailing relatives, learning disabilities, mental health issues, and difficulties as English language learners. Second, these students, having drifted away from the system, would be hard to locate. Third, it would take encouragement and patience to help these students—many believing it was too late and too difficult— to recommit to themselves and their education.
Working under the direction of Dr. Jeannette Silvers, Chief of Accountability, Ruby painstakingly tracked down potential candidates for the program: researching student records, posting on Facebook and other social media, inquiring in neighborhoods and making countless home visits. It wasn’t easy.
Once students were found who wanted to succeed, Ruby found resources so they could. Principals, school counselors and teachers were consulted. Individualized academic plans and timelines were established. Certified teachers were assigned for home tutoring. Students/families were assisted with DHS concerns, child care, counseling, court attendance, green card inquiries, hospital visits and shortfalls of food and basic necessities.
In 2012, 15 crossed the finish line.
Not everyone made it. Three students were pregnant and two had recently given birth; one was the mother of active twin boys. Due to the demands of single motherhood and the lack of child care, they could not fully commit to the program. One promising student moved abruptly to Minnesota one month prior to taking his final Regents-required exam. One recommended student, only a few requirements shy of graduation, had remarkable grades and stellar Regents scores. But as a father of two young children, caregiver for an ailing father and holding a full time job, the demands of completing were just too much. Nonetheless, Ruby would have said, at least they tried.
15 graduated students may not seem like that many. But think of the children who will see their parents succeed and will want their children to succeed who will want their children to succeed. The small ripples generated through Ruby’s determination will grow into ever widening circles.
Ruby’s story was relayed to me by Dr. Rita Gaither who invites all to a Memorial Service in celebration of Ruby’s life on Saturday April 18 at 4:30 pm at the Genesee Baptist Church, 149 Brooks Avenue. For more information on attending or volunteering or to donate to the Ruby Pearl Memorial Scholarship for young parents wishing to further their education, contact Rita at firstname.lastname@example.org