Last June, 12-year-old Jose Marin had the kind of sixth-grade graduation that kids from the tough Pacoima housing project where he lives only dream about.
The faculty of Pacoima Elementary School voted him the outstanding graduate. He was president of the student council. And after months of saving, his parents gave him $100 in cash as a gift.
Jose easily could have spent the summer resting on his laurels. Instead, on the Monday following graduation, he went back to Pacoima Elementary and volunteered to work.
“It was unexpected and unprecedented,” said Principal Robert E. Owens. “He came into the office and asked if he could help. He’s been here every day since.”
Jose, the oldest of four children, quickly became one of the school’s most reliable workers, staff members say. He spends seven hours a day helping in the office, running errands, selling lunch tickets and working in the cafeteria. If there is an odd job around the campus, Jose is there with ready hands and a willing heart.
“We don’t have any money to pay him; I wish we did,” Owens said with a sigh. “The staff is trying to come up with ideas for some kind of reward.”
“In September, he starts junior high school. We were thinking of buying all of his school supplies as a way of saying thank you.”
But Jose said that no one needs to thank him, and that just being on the Pacoima campus during the day has been reward enough.
“Coming here gives me something to do,” the boy said recently during a short break.
“During the day, there’s nothing to do in the projects except watch TV. My brothers and sister are here at school. So are my friends. It gets boring at home by myself. So, I came over here to see what I could do.”
School staff members found out that Jose can fill out inventory forms needed to keep track of food stored in the cafeteria’s large freezers. He can build props and sets for school plays. He can sell ice cream during lunchtime and work as a playground monitor during recess. And more.
When he gets a break in his duties, Jose sometimes slips into the school’s computer center and works with the terminals. He has written a couple of his own computer programs and tutors younger children in the center.
Jose said he will miss his old school when he starts attending Charles Maclay Junior High next week, but vows to return in mid-September when his alma mater holds its annual celebration for Mexican Independence Day.
“He’s just a great, dependable all-around young man. I just can’t say enough about him,” Owens said.