Class Divide: A Tale of Four Middle School Kids

David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.
David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father, Lee Haralson, share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.

Note: This is a sidebar to the story called One School, Two Worlds)

 

Shane Lebow, Eduardo Anaya, Erika Berglund and David Ohms all go to Santa Barbara Junior High School and live within the same five-mile radius. But their lives couldn’t be more different.

If there’s a common thread connecting the parents of both groups, though, it’s a deep longing to find what is best for their children.

SHANE LEBOW’S FAMILY

Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard. The eighth-grader, who also plays violin in the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony, was recently ranked as one of the top 13-year-old golfers in California. He hopes to attend Stanford.

Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.
Shane is an aspiring golfer who lives in Montecito and has a swimming pool, chipping green and a sand trap in his backyard.

Shane’s parents admit that they could have afforded the $17,000 annual tuition to send their son to a private school they considered. The average class size there is half that of Santa Barbara Junior High, and students take far-flung field trips to places like Vietnam.

Shane’s mother, Teri, a UCLA graduate, vouched for the private route. At first, Santa Barbara Junior High — with its chain-link fence surrounding a concrete play area — reminded her of a prison.

“I sort of flipped out,” she said with a chuckle, adding that her experience with the school has turned out well.

To Shane’s father, Ken, a Syracuse University graduate and Wall Street stockbroker, it represented the real world.

Mr. Lebow is ever-conscious of smothering his children with too much involvement, or keeping them sheltered from diversity.

Ultimately, though, it was Shane’s decision. He chose the junior high school because most of his friends were going there. He said he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m meeting kids I would not have otherwise met,” he said.

Shane’s education is clearly top-notch.

In GATE science, he works with UCSB doctoral students on experiments. In GATE math, he is studying geometry, a class most students don’t take until high school.

His interests transcend schoolwork. In addition to golf and violin, Shane is involved with the school’s surf club and has even started playing drums in a rock band.

Mr. Lebow, 63, an avuncular man with the quick cadence of a native New Yorker, grew up with conflicting values. He was reared affluently — the son of a fur-coat entrepreneur — but it was the 1960s and he railed against authority. He grew his hair long and adhered to hippie ideals, yet was an incredible golfer himself. He played for Syracuse.

After college, he did a two-year stint as a social worker, helping welfare recipients in New York, but throughout had the sense he was adrift. At age 27, he got a job as a clerk at Bear Stearns & Co. — a brokerage firm in Manhattan that employed about 120 people.

His bosses saw promise and gave him a job as a speculator in commodities. Soon after, he became a full-fledged stockbroker; he’d found his passion. Success followed, both for him and for the firm, which now employs some 14,000 people.

Although he hasn’t retired, Mr. Lebow, who also has twin 7-year-old daughters with Teri, likes to say that his children are now his passion.

EDUARDO ANAYA’S FAMILY

Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered: His older brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family. (See his story in "Tale of 4 Families" sidebar)

Eduardo, a seventh-grader, has lived his entire life in a subsidized housing unit on Soledad Street. But his days at the apartment could be numbered.

His brother, a senior at Santa Barbara High, was recently involved in a gang brawl and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp, his family said. Now, the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which does not tolerate drug use or gang involvement among tenants, is deciding whether to evict the family.

Eduardo is among many students at the school whose primary language at home is Spanish. He speaks English haltingly, usually giving shy, one-word answers to questions. When asked, Eduardo divulges that he likes all things football. He often plays tackle football with friends in a park by the apartment complex. His favorite video game is “Madden 2006.” His favorite NFL team is the Philadelphia Eagles.

His mother speaks no English, but that hasn’t stopped her from getting involved with her children’s education.

For years, Silvia Anaya, 46, has regularly attended school fundraising events for her four sons, often preparing tacos for the group.

Ms. Anaya, who cleans houses by trade, is a short woman with some gaps in her smile. She is emotional about the prospect of losing her home. While talking to a reporter and translator, she broke down several times, tears flowing into a napkin.

Ms. Anaya said she is scared: Another gang member recently threatened to kill her son at Boys Camp. She’s also angry: How can her son choose gangs, when she has tried so hard to give him a life without the kind of suffering she endured as an orphan in Mexico? There, her alcoholic foster father beat her in unthinkable ways, leaving a scar on the back of her neck with a machete and another on her shin with a baseball bat.

“What more do they want?” she asked of her sons. She and her husband, Rey, have lived in Santa Barbara since 1974.

Rey lately has been rounding up witnesses and bringing them to Housing Authority hearings to convince authorities that his son was jumped by bat-wielding gang members who beat him severely. He is asking for one last chance, but he says he understands the authority’s position.

“They are really making an effort to clean up,” he said. “I’m at their mercy.”

Mr. Anaya, a 56-year-old former gardener, said he has been unable to find steady work since 2003, when the truck in which he was a passenger was broadsided by a bus.

The accident, which occurred in the Mesa area, left him in the hospital for days with massive injuries to the head and elsewhere, he said. To this day, he said he has problems with his knees, hands, neck and memory.

ERIKA BERGLUND’S FAMILY

 

Erika's family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages.
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Erika’s family has lived all over the world: New York, Colorado, Sweden, Denmark.

Through their professions and avocations, her parents have exposed her to a healthy mix of arts, sciences, athletics and languages. Their beautiful yard in Montecito harbors a dozen gnarled trees; their walls are adorned with countless colorful paintings.

Her mother, Matti, 45, is an artist from Norway who somewhat reluctantly acknowledges her success: At her last show, she sold five $4,000 paintings in one day. Her father, Barney, 48, is a geophysicist from Iowa who used to work for Texaco but now runs a freelance outfit named C.F.O. Consulting. He is also a bicycle racing enthusiast and was in charge of organizing the Santa Barbara leg of the professional Amgen Tour of California.

Erika, who speaks Norwegian, is on the student council, in choir club and loves art class.

“When I was little, I would always paint women, like she does,” she said, referring to her mother. “But now I’m learning different techniques.”

Erika said the students rarely talk about issues of race and class at the school, though she remembers how a lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. in GATE social studies once spurred a discussion about the segregation within the school.

Her mother praises the school’s diversity — a facet she missed out on early in life.

“I grew up in Norway,” she said. “I didn’t see a black person before I was 20.”

Ms. Berglund grew up in a blue-collar household in Oslo. Her own mother was a seamstress who started working in factories at age 14; her father owned a clothing store and was a javelin coach who trained Olympic athletes.

Erika’s father takes a down-to-earth view of his three children’s educations. He says, half-jokingly, that he offered to “send them away” to Cate or Thacher, exclusive boarding schools in Carpinteria and Ojai. One chose the private path, two preferred the public.

DAVID OHMS’ FAMILY

David is among just a handful of the school’s students who are homeless. He and his father share a tarp-covered RV in a parking lot at Dwight Murphy Field.

His father, Lee Haralson, has raised him since he was 2. It’s uncommon to see homeless men raising children, but Mr. Haralson is an unorthodox man.

“I used to walk around town with a stroller,” he said.

If there is one lesson Mr. Haralson has tried to instill in his son, it’s that he needs an education.

Click here to read a follow-up story about David and Lee

“I don’t want him living like this,” said Mr. Haralson, who chain-smokes and whose gnarled hands have at least two rings on every finger. He makes and sells them.

Mr. Haralson, 56, is a native of Flint, Mich. He signed up for the Army instead of graduating from high school. He went to Vietnam. While there, he said, his platoon was ambushed in the jungle, and he took two bullets in the hip from machine gun fire. Although he was flown to a hospital and treated, he carried the bullets in his side for some 30 years.

When David was a toddler, Mr. Haralson took him to South America. There, he said, he worked as a mercenary, training “people how to defend their property.” The pair spent several years living in lean-tos and bunkers in the jungles of Nicaragua.

David, who uses his mother’s last name, proudly proclaims that he once saw a 120-foot anaconda swallow a water buffalo. “It was 60 feet,” Mr. Haralson said, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “And it was a pig.”

Eventually, Mr. Haralson decided to return to Santa Barbara, where David was born. Mr. Haralson mustered the cash for a run-down motor home. He enrolled David at Franklin Elementary, where he skipped kindergarten and went straight into first grade. Every day, the man walked or drove his son to school. He boasted that David only missed two days of school.

“It was five,” David said. “Remember when you started getting those headaches?” David insisted on staying home with him.

Mr. Haralson said he has a brain tumor, as well as cancer on his lung and heart.

Last summer, Mr. Haralson, who blames Agent Orange for his ailments, said he learned he did not have long to live. He put his son on a plane to Michigan to live with his grandfather. Six months later, seeing he was still alive, Mr. Haralson decided to send for his son, who recently arrived.

“I missed him,” he explained.

About a month ago, Mr. Haralson enrolled David at Santa Barbara Junior High. He started classes shortly thereafter. Now, Mr. Haralson said, he hopes he can hold out for at least five more years. “That’s when he turns 18,” he said.