In her new book The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America, educator Deborah Hicks chronicles her years volunteering as a reading teacher in Cincinnati’s Lower Price Hill neighborhood. During her time in the poor, working class community, she worked with girls who reminded her of herself when she was young, growing up in a similar community in Appalachian North Carolina.
Some of the girls wanted to be the first in their family to go to college, just as Hicks was. Many came from broken homes, raised by a single parent or relative. Many had families ravaged by drugs. One of them, Blair, a nine-year-old being raised by her grandmother, was even born with cocaine in her system.
Hicks forged a warm, trusting environment that bordered on familial, providing breakfast during summer school and, after handpicking novels for the class, giving in to the books they wanted to read (she had selected young adult novels with characters similar to her students, but she found the girls much preferred, and identified with, the heroines in Stephen King fiction). After four years, Hicks left to work with girls in her home state, but caught up with the Cincinnati girls four years later. Unfortunately, only three of the students she worked with were still in school. That said, the stories in The Road Out are still inspiring, and speak to the national problem of keeping children with bleak futures in school.
Deborah Hicks was recently on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show to talk about the book. Listen here.