I Choose To Stay by Salome Thomas-El
A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City

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The challenges of working in an urban school are not for every teacher. Some get burnt out fast. Some lose sight of why they started teaching to begin with. Some find their calling in other neighborhoods…with other kids. But not Salome Thomas-EL. A teacher at Roberts Vaux Middle School in Philadelphia’s inner city, he chose to stay. Gripping, poignant, and surprisingly honest, this is his blistering real-life tale of mentoring and making a difference—and of how the reformation of America’s educational system can start with just one school.

Salome Thomas-EL

Embodying the best qualities of education pioneers Joe Clark and Jaime Escalante, Salome Thomas-EL is a black man dedicated to changing the lives—and dreams—of inner city kids. Born in 1964, one of eight children, Salome grew up in the Philadelphia projects. But identified early as "gifted," he had doors opened to him that are closed to most. In a media-related job, talking with superstars such as Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, he was on the fast track to success. But he couldn’t forget his roots, or the children of the inner city.

In the late 1980s, he went back into disadvantaged neighborhoods and into the classroom. As teacher, mentor, and in most cases, the only positive male role model in these children’s lives, Salome Thomas-EL would do something extraordinary: he would lead the girls and boys of his school to victory as they competed in three major championships. Chess championships. Reviving the chess club, the Mighty Bishops, Salome taught his pupils to resolve conflict with their minds instead of their fists. They went into regional competitions, to the nationals in Tennessee, and to the U.S. Open in Orlando. Not knowing they were expected to lose, they won. In the years between 1996 and 2000, Mr. Thomas-EL helped scores of other schools begin similar programs. But in the same years, twenty of his students were murdered.

Clearly, chess wasn’t enough. Now in this compelling memoir, Salome Thomas-EL tells of what else needed to be done, from implementing the 100-book challenge program, to Saturday tutoring and in-school breakfasts. As his efforts began to have a citywide impact, the offers began pouring in for promotions, for advancement, for his going elsewhere. He chose to stay, and the results are an inspiration to us all.

More than just one man's story, I CHOOSE TO STAY shows concerned Americans everywhere how to make a difference in their schools and communities. Acknowledging problems, banding together to solve them, and seeing the value of mentoring relationships are all lessons to be learned from the life of this extraordinary man, whose struggle and triumph are a model of how to engage students and their creativity...and of how to live.


About Salome Thomas-El

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Thomas-EL is currently the Principal of Reynolds Elementary School in Philadelphia, where he continues to influence the lives of students and educators. Cecil Murphey is the author of articles in Writer's Digest, Christianity Today, Charisma, Ministry, and These Days, among others, and author of the Dictionary of Christian Marriage, Dictionary of Biblical Literacy, and Gifted hands.
Published March 1, 2003 by Kensington. 304 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Self Help, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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A product of Philadelphia’s inner city, raised by a mother who worked as often as she could but frequently was on welfare, the bright and hardworking boy was encouraged to excel by both Mom and his teachers, who helped him gain admittance to a magnet school and then a small, largely white college.

Mar 01 2003 | Read Full Review of I Choose To Stay: A Black Tea...

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