The Rise of Gloria Esperanza

Ernie Brill

© Copyright 2023 by Ernie Brill

Photo by Lisa Fotios at Pexels.
Photo by Lisa Fotios at Pexels.
Gloria Esperanza may be my most unpopular student ever. Most  teachers loathe her because The she fixes things they can’t, speaks her mind, and expects reasons for requests. Since most teachers demand unquestioning obedience,

Gloria swims against the current, tending to dive into hot water head -first (“Why not – my head’s the toughest part of me”). Gloria also chews gum faster than anybody else at Confucius Middle School, holding the current school record for twenty -two consecutively popped bubbles

Rumors flutter around her since she seldom wears a skirt or a dress, preferring black jeans, t-shirts, and her ubiquitous flowered denim jacket. The boys fear her fists ever since she flattened Willie Rosa in a fire drill. Willie swore he was shoved into her; Gloria claimed sneaky hands: “ He put his paws where they don’t belong!” she bellowed on her way to the Dean’s office. “No one plays me like that!less they want their lights out! Suspend me, but I don’t play that!”

The girls envy Gloria’s dexterity. She heals broken-down proJectors and runs antiquated reel-to-reel film with Scotch tape and chubby fingers,  muttering curses while dispassionately ignori cries of “ What’s the hold up?

Can’t you fix that piece of junk?” They hate her confident face and her short, slicked hair, coppery red like the wires she loves to handle.

I get it from my Pop,” she explains. “He’s been trying for years to get into three different unions - electricians, carpenters, and stationary engineers, but there’s always some ‘problem’.”

Gloria’s father, Frank Esperanza, helps lead the United Builders

Coalition, a city- wide minority labor group pressing for more hiring in the all-white  construction trades.
Ever since I was a kid my dad took me and my brother with him to his jobs  and show us how to do stuff.” This statement seems to make some of the other  students jittery although several girls defend her right to hammer nails. When Gloria answers a peer writing assignment, “What Careers Have You Considered?” with “my own construction company!” heat starts.

Yo, a woman can’t have her own company!”

Why not?” asks Yolanda.

“’Cause she don’t know enough,” explains Rolando.

Says who?” demands Gloria.

We run everything,” Eddie adds, “A woman just mess it up.”

Oh RIGHT!” Nilsa snaps. “Like you think how men run things is so hot and all that.

Dope all over. Homeless people living in bedroom set boxes. Everybody shooting

everybody. Someone stabs somebody they get probation. Wasn’t no women come

with all that. You men are wack!”

Well, if y’all do get a company and build a house,” Jermaine says, “Let me know where it’s at ‘cause I wouldn’t move in if you paid me.”

How do you know what me or anyone woman can do?”

Gloria sneer-laughs. “I challenge you right here and now, sucker, to build something. Name it.”

Jermaine stares at her. Gloria laughs, jiggling her leg.

Pick anything. Go ahead. I bet you a hundred bucks mine be better.”

Jermaine studies her warily.

Watch it now. I can use a hammer.”

Gloria chews her gum.

What about nails?”

Jermaine stares at her.

What about nails? Nails go with the hammer. You think I’m stupid or something?”

Great. So what’s the bet?”

Jermaine scans the class, then chuckles.”

I ain’t gonna take a girl’s money. That wouldn’t be right.”

The kids jeer.

Go on!”

You chicken?”

Show the bi-“

They see my face.

Language!” I snap.

There’s a sudden hush until Gloria drawls, “Well, is it a bet?”
Jermaine waves his hands as if it’s not even worth discussing.

“He CAN’T!” Gloria exclaims, holding up her palms for Nilsa and Angie  to high-five.

“’Cause he knows she’s too good!”

“She be the only girl in the advanced shop class!”

“I like Mr. Wanamaker,” Gloria smiles,”I’ m gonna do welding!”

The girls tease Gloria about almost never wearing a dress.

“Mira, when you gonna get out of them pants?”

“When I take a shower.”

Even our Special Ed. Dean, Roz Braverman, asks her one day while  Glory serves a detention. I’m waiting for another dean to discuss another student.

“You ever wear a dress, Gloria?”

“Yeah. When I was eight.”

“And what was that stupendous occasion?”
“My grandfather on my Mom’s side passed. He was ninety.”

“Lucky you. You got a healthy family.”

Gloria chews.

“I’m kiddin’. I wear a dress when I go to church.”

“And when is that, pray tell?”

Gloria stares at Roz.

“Sundays. Ain’t that when you go?”

Roz sighs. “I’m not Catholic. I don’t go to church. I go to  Synagogue when someone kicks the bucket or some friend’s acne display gets barmitzvahed.”

Oh yeah. You go on Saturday. That’ s tough. When do you go shopping?”

That’s off the point. Don’t you ever want to wear a dress?”

What for? So some jerk can make remarks about me? Or hassle me walking down the street minding my own business? Forget that!”

A feminist at fourteen! Her wonders to perform!”

Gloria blushes, pops a bubble, and leans forward.

I don’t know about that. I just got tired of it. “

Wear tights. That’s what I do.”

Gloria claps her hands.

You don’t either!”

I do. I’m very cold –blooded. Didn’t you know?”

You’re pretty weird for a Dean, you know that?”

Roz peers up from her stack of student discipline referrals.

I’ve known all my life, my dear. That is – my life as a dean. I’ve had others.”

Gloria grins dubiously.

You believe in that stuff? Reincarnation and all that?”

Yes. I’m planning in my next round to return as a millionaire with a gorgeous


Gloria laughs.

I mean, why should I keep stifling my innate flamboyancy?”

So you wouldn’t come back here, huh?”

Ah, you manipulative little wisenheimer. Gloria, if I died tomorrow, I would  come back just for you – to make your life as miserable as possible and ensure  you graduate ninth grade.”

Ninth grade nothing. I’m going to college and post-college work.”

Roz’ eyes gleam.

Elucidate, please.”

What’s that? Don’t use them fancy college words with me.”

If not with you, my post-college munchkin, who else? Elucidate – to make things clearer. Repeat.”

Gloria hesitates.

Roz stamps her black suede Goofy boots and flings back her purple-streaked  silvery hair.

O.K. girlie,” she snaps, “You wanna go backwards or you wanna go for the gold?”

Gloria stops a snarl and frowns.

Go for the gold.”


To make things clearer.”

And whom do you and I know who excels at making things clear to people?”


Someone you know exceedingly well.”



Gloria blushes.


Yes, my wonderbar.”

What does exceedingly mean?”

Ahh, now you’re cooking! It’s a nice snooty British tilt-your-pinkie –up-the  stratosphere word meaning more than ordinary tending towards the overboard.

Say it.”


Ing. Ing. Get that g in there.”


No, not a native Peruvian. Relax. Ing .”



Try it in a sentence, “I say.

Gloria studies the ceiling, blinks twice, and smiles.

My mom uses garlic exceedingly in cooking, but I still like it because I like garlic.”

A compound complex sentence yet,” Roz exclaims, “Wonder of wonders!”

She claps Gloria on the back.

We may save you yet from your environment.”

Can I go now?”

One last thing. When you tell people you will study after college, it is called graduate work. Gra-jew-it. That doesn’t mean you become Jewish; it does mean you  continue to obtain vital pieces of paper that will save you from McDonald’s.”

In other words,” I add, “You have a fine brain.”

Even as insane as you are,” Roz winks.

Gloria adds more gum, smiling.


Gloria is crazy enough to challenge Cesar Reyes on a bad day. Cesar  has a peculiar academic status, living in Hell’s Kitchen but attending our school since he is persona non grata in his district for unspecified reasons kept even from Mitch Silverman, our Special Ed Director.

Cesar is a “lookout” for Tenth Avenue Hell’s Kitchen crack dealers. His mother died from an overdose last January very suddenly and now he lives in a perpetual rage with his diabetic grandmother. As Meg McClaren, the other  eighth grade Special Education teacher points out, “If you had to empty an old  lady’s bedpan three or four times a night, you might be testy too.” Meg also discovers that Cesar “cuts” school to take his grandmother to various Medicaid appointments since she speaks little English and can barely walk.

And you know where she lives,” fumes Cesar, the goddam twenty - sixth

floor in the 58th St projects.”

So?” Jesus deadpans, awaiting Cesar’s reactions.


This one,” Jesus replies.

Bull! This aint no new building. You got some little addition they built when my  brother went here. That aint nothin’. It makes the school look like some cheap  parking lot.”

Elevator be new.”

Not with people like you messing with it ‘til it breaks.”

He got that right,” claimed Gloria.
Gloria performed heroically when the “new” elevator jammed between floors with a packed crowd yelling, pressing buttons, slamming the alarm, and shrieking  opposing instructions and suggestions. Gloria chewed and tinkered.


From her back pocket she took out a Swiss Army knife and fiddled with the front door, then returned, her knife blade full of greyish pink crud.


After a slight jolt, the elevator proceeded smoothly.

Gum” pronounced Gloria.

Everyone stared at her.
Not mine.”

She pulled hers out as if displaying dentures.

Mine’s new. That crud was old.”

On the bad day, the challenge day, Cesar enters cursing, “Braverman’s crazy! Telling me if I’m a minute late that counts as half an absence if I don’t make it up after school when she knows I didn’t agree to no rule like that!”
Nila motions to him

You sign that piece of paper first week of school?”

How should I know?”

It was pink. It said you read the rule book they gave out.”

I know the rules here.”

Yeah? Well, that’s one of them. If you signed, you were told.”


Next time, read it,” Nilsa advises disgustedly.

What did you think it was?” Gloria laughs, “You get a cake?”

Who asked you?”

No one. So what.”

Cesar shoves his seat back. Gloria jumps up.

I’m with it if you want it.”

I scramble between them, gripping the collar of Cesar’s down-to-the- floor-length

leather coat. Slippery, it smells like catfood and cologne.

Let go of my coat, man! Let GO of my COAT!”

He surges towards Gloria who is gripped around the waist by Angie. I brace  myself, holding on, hearing chairs scraping all around me, kids getting out of the way.

Chill, bro,” warns Orlando, his big arms around Cesar’s right shoulder. “You gonna  get in trouble, yo’.”

He don’t care,” Nilsa says, He don’t care about nothin’“.

Cesar’s a bull, but Orlando and I hold on firmly. I never realized Orlando’s strength.

Cesar sits, a fuming bomb.

Sit down, Gloria.”

I’m moving.”-

She yanks her chair to the far end of the class by the small window that gives us a magnificent view of the cafeteria supply room. I take a few deep breaths.   O.K. We are gonna chill now. Easy does it. Everybody take your seats please.”

I sigh and take three deep breaths. I’ve modeled it for them, many times, so I murmur “OK now? Three, deep, breaths.”

Gloria presses her lips stubbornly, but her chest is rising up and down. Cesar  gulps three throatfulls of air.

You two will apologize to each other, or take a walk to Ms. Braverman’s office.

You’re wasting class time. It’s not fair to the other students, or to me.”

No one messes with me,” Cesar says.

Same here,” says Gloria.

I don’t play.”

Same here.”

Hell,” Cesar says, and starts taking off his coat. I notice some of his gold chains are


This class sucks, “ he hisses. “This school sucks. It all sucks.”

So you just noticed?” Gloria says.

Mira, enough,” Angie says.

Gloria makes a face and mutters, “I’m the only one here with any guts.”

Many students also envy Gloria’s writing. I’m reading their work about the

Underground Railroad. The assignment is to write an escape story.

Most students write like Rolando:

I was tired of it. I got my stuff together and left. got away. I wasn’t a slave no more. I was happy about it.

This is Angel’s idea of an essay with a beginning, a middle, and an end with details and suspense.

Jesus’s is a slight improvement.

One night, I took a bag and jammed my stuff in with some tools. Then I went and slit the overseer’s throwt and snuffed his dogs. I took a torch and lit the barn and the front of the big house. I wanted to stay and watch them burn to hell but I figyered it was better get out and go as far from there as I cud.

He mutters, arms folded. I nod “Not bad”. Then Gloria reads her piece while the

girls sit restlessly as Gloria describe a woman escaping with a baby.

She turned past the big elm with shadows like monstrous arms. She heard a noise! She thought she might faint! Now! A squirrel stared at her from behind a tree and she took it as a sign to follow.
She did. She suddenly felt stronger. The baby slept. Now she was safe, deep in the woods heading for freedom. She looked North. She saw a huge determined silver lite. It was the North Star! It shone silver lite on the baby’s face  “HI North Star,” she smiled. “If yore good enuf for Harriet Tubman, then yore good enuf for me.” The baby smiled and fell into a deep sleep. The next day she met Kunta Kintay and Fiddler and they formed a team.

To be Continued

P.S. I would like to continue this story though it’s kind of long already. I want to keep it going and try some things and do more research. I’ll do it for extra credit and the two of us can figure out how much extra I get when I’m done.

I sit reading, wondering: why is this girl in Special Education? What is her learning disability?
The next day, reviewing Gloria’s elementary school records, my blood quickens. The faded folder contains sparse notes. The blue Teacher Remarks  read: This energetic but extremely disorganized student needs intense structuring. Compulsive talker. Weak in math. “Hates” it. Hands-on math activities recommended. Loves science which along with English are her strengths. Likes to write. Easily distracted.Tempers. Refer to medical. Consider Ritalin.

A fading salmon medical card, undated, reads: Referred for hyperactivity. Ritalin suggested, considered by family. No consent or implementation. Slightly overweight student claims she can “Put it on or take it off.” Student cautioned re long-range effects of crash dieting.

I check her grades. In all grades after fourth she has straight As and Bs. On her yellow behavioral record the column for Third Grade has a starred note and red ink script: ASSAULT ON TEACHER. TRANSFER TO SPECIAL EDUCATION

To my limited knowledge, any transfer into special education classes requires a full meeting with the existing Director of Special Education Services ,  Mitch Silverman, both parents (if possible), a record of transfer from any other facility, and, last but not least, the student’s guidance counselor, the part-time psychologist, and an administrative representative.

I search Gloria’s folder. There is no Incident Report, as required by city law.

There is no parent conference form and signed consent sheet as required by

city, state, and Federal law. There is no referral form transferring Gloria to Special

Education although her current Level I Class serves students with documented

learning disabilities. There is no record of Gloria entering this category. No grade

lists any official status change.
In the sixth grade section of the behavior sheet, a Teacher’s Remark reads:  Tends to be impulsive. Still no parental consent for Ritalin . Poor peer relationships.

That afternoon I find Mitch.

Mitch, what do you know about Gloria Esperanza?”

He pauses, smiles.
Funny kid. Tomboy. Smart . We’ve considered some mainstreaming, but her

teachers always felt she wasn’t ready. Poor peer relationships. Most had no special reason for that. Why?”

I think she’s ready.”

How so?”

Her work’s fine. Maybe her peer relationships aren’t that good because she doesn’t  fit a certain stereotype. Maybe she never did.”

So what do you think the story is then?”

She stands up for herself. She does not wear dresses, or skirts.”

Mitch rubs his beard.

We’re missing something.”

Her records indicate she was transferred to Level II in third grade”


That’s just it. There is NO record of ANY transfer into Special Ed at all.”

Mitch glowers.

Oh Jesus, I need this like I need leukemia.”

He scribbles vigorously into his datebook.

Let me look into it. Between the two of us, we’ll get this figured out.”

He returns in several days.

Unbelievable. I tell you, I’ve been in this business for thirty years. You would have thought I’d seen everything. I double-checked all her files. They all want to pass the buck; no one knows nothing. What I keep asking is how do you lose papers from a kid’s file? It makes you wonder: what else is missing? But if I start worrying about that too much, they’ll be fitting me for a straightjacket. So, I talked to the teachers that are still here. In fourth grade, the teacher says Gloria was “distracted.”
Of course she was, her father was in a very bad car accident. But get the kid in and see what she has to say.”

I talk with Gloria the next day after school.
There’s something I want to ask you, Gloria.”


You’re doing really well in this class.”

Yeah. I like this class.”

You’re really good in English and Social Studies.”

They’re my best subjects.”

So uh, how come you were in Special Ed in the first place? Any idea?”

She chews her gum rapidly, squints, and crams another three pieces in. I’ve never seen her chew her gum so fast. She stares out the window as if seeking the furthest sight possible away from me.  You know,” she sighs, “ you’re the first person ever asked me that .

Still staring out the window, she speaks in a low, slow voice, taking a deep breath with each word, trembling.

No one ever asked me that. Not the principal, not a guidance counselor, not teacher no one.”

What happened, Gloria?”

Slowly unwrapping a piece of gum, she pops it into her mouth. She doesn’t chew it.

She takes another long look out the window.

In third grade, we were doing ART, which I liked. It was no big deal; we was draw-  ing trees with a sky. I thought I’d try something cool and make the trees blue and the sky green. I thought it came out really fresh. The teacher looked at it, made a
face and called me a stupid spic. I hit her with a chair. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but it was like everything around me went red. They called my parents and suspended me for two weeks. When I came back, I was in Special Ed.”

I whistle.
I realize I shouldn’t, but I whistle.

What a joke!” I blurt.

Wasn’t a joke to me . Still aint.”

I didn’t mean you. I mean- what was done to you. It’s a travesty.”

What’s that mean?”

Look it up. Wow them in mainstream English with your dynamite vocabulary.”

You puttin’ me in mainstream English?”

In all of it. If you want it.”

You want my parents to come in and see you and Mr. Silverman?”

When can they come?”

I’ll ask them tonight!”


And if they ok it, I’m out of Special Ed.?”

Yeah, but if you miss it too much, you can return as a Guest Speaker.”

She laughs.

Oh that’ll go over real big!”

Two weeks later, the parents appear with Gloria in Mitch’s office. We don’t

need an interpreter since Mitch speaks fluent Spanish. After the meeting I say, “You

never told me you speak Spanish and he shrugs, “You never asked.”

I always have a bowl of fruit when parents come to school that I offer but

Gloria’s mother and father wave politely no thank you as Mitch shakes their hands and proceeds.
Mrs. Esperanza, Mr. Esperanza, thank you very much for coming here today. We

greatly appreciate your coming in to help us help your daughter.”

He pauses, then broadens his smile.

We have very good new for you. Your daughter Gloria is doing very well here, as you know from her report cards and from talking with some of her teachers, this  young man here included.”

Yes,” smiles Mr. Esperanza.

Si,” says Mrs. Esperanza, “she works very hard. She’s a good girl.”

“”We feel that Gloria is ready to be mainstreamed which means to leave the Special Education classes and start taking regular classes, especially in English and Social Studies.”

They are rapidly nodding.

We found out about what happened in third grade. The teacher was very wrong.”

Mr. Esperanza stiffens as his wife grabs his arm.

You see! I TOLD you”

She turns to Mitch.

I told him about that teacher. She was , how you say, racista! Sometime you just know.“

How so, Mrs. Esperanza?” Mitch says, almost offhandedly.

You know. By how they look at you. How their body move away from you.”

Interesting!” Mitch says, moving forward slighty..

Mr. Esperanza scowls.

Mrs. Esperanza gulps and starts peeling an orange. l

That picture, I still have it. I love that picture. That racista-

She hit the teacher. She cannot do that.”

Mrs. Esperanza rapid-fires Spanish; Mitch stifles a smile.

She turns to me.

When my daughter defends her honor I don’t care what anybody say or does.

She is right to do so.”

It is wonderful that you have such a strong daughter,” I carefully agree, and, I tilt

my head respectfully to Mr. Esperanza ,” It is also true she must work on handling

her temper.”

Don’t I know?” Mr.Esperanza chuckles.

Mitch clears his throat.

Your daughter will need help and patience. We are putting her back into regular classes. It will take her some time to make the change and get used to it. We have  complete faith that she will continue to do well.”



And what can we do right now to help her make the changes?” Mr. Esperanza asks.

Mitch looks at me.

Help make her feel ready. Do what you have been doing. Make sure she has her

supplies- paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, compass, protractor- the usual.”

He’s writing it all down in his head, nodding “Si” with each item.

Get her a good dictionary. That helps a bunch.”

Mrs. Esperanza grips my hands in her and whispers, “God bless you”, pressing her

lips in an unsuccessful attempt to stop tears.
Come, Mommy,” her husband murmurs.

In the next week, I spot Gloria, frowning with a new book bag.

How goes it, Gloria? I don’t get to see you much now.”

They’re busting my chops.”

You can handle it.”

Hey, check it out.”

Whatcha got?”

She unshoulders her book bag, opens it, and pulls out a huge book resembling the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It is Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary in laminated plastic.

My Dad did this. He says it’s so my kids can have it too. He’s like that.”

You carry this around?

I’m into it. Sometimes I look words up just for fun. Do you know what excoriate

means ?”

I know what it means. But can you use it in a sentence?”

She pops a bubble, spots the dean’s office, surveys the ceiling, and smiles.

Ms. Braverman loves to make believe she excoriates recalcitrant students, but she’s  really a soft touch underneath her gruff demeanor that she feigns with considerable finesse.”

Impressive plus!”

That’s six bases. Probably. I’ve got twenty five home runs. So far.”

Who gave you that idea?”

Nobody. I made it up.”

I laugh.

You’re gonna go places, Gloria.”

She grins, chewing furiously.

I’m plannin’ on it.”

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