The walls of Karen Perron's Southern High School classroom are like a refrigerator -- filled with faces.
Perron missed our first meeting, so I had a lot of time to walk around the room, look at all the photos of the teacher and her students, the assignments on the white board, even read a couple chapters of "A Separate Peace" off the bookcase on the back wall. Perron wasn't there, but the room wasn't empty.
"The kids know when somebody cares," Perron tells me the next day when we finally meet.
"They call me Grandma, a lot of them. ... A lot of people think I should be offended. I say, 'I can live with that.' It's respectful for the kids."
Marcia Owen of the Religious Coalition for Nonviolent Durham had recommended I meet Perron. Perron started a Christian students group a few years ago. She's had students perform at Owen's annual vigil for victims of gun violence in Durham. She organizes a Peace Week at the school. Last year's green T-shirt showed a clenched first and said, "Power to the Peaceful."
But it's a photo Perron pulls off the filing cabinet that helps me understand why Owen sent me. It's a girl, a dancer and an Honor Roll student. Perron writes about her in The Durham News tomorrow. Suffice to say some of the things Perron sees -- and helps her students through -- teaching high school in Durham are things I never faced or even thought about growing up.
Perron has two English honors classes this semester, a mythology class and an English 1 ninth grade class. I ask her about a unit on the holocaust and genocide, after I see a poster about it on the wall.
"We study about the heart, and can it change," she explains. "And we study hope, that hope is life."
I enjoyed meeting Karen Perron. I hope you enjoy reading her columns, starting tomorrow in The Durham News.