School Talk

“I was never hungry in Nigeria.”— Three NJ Teachers Risk Everything To Save Their Students

The Nigerian boys arrived in Paterson to win games, feed a local basketball machine and parlay their talents into a better life.

When their world collapsed in scandal amid allegations of human trafficking and cheating, it took 3 teachers who risked everything to save them.

“All right. Give me a hug and let’s get the hell out of here.” That is what Patterson, New Jersey teacher Sara Ratzker said when she picked up her 17 year old student at the bus station after he’d been thrown out of his “home”, with all his stuff , by his basketball coach. He had been recruited from Nigeria to play basketball and soon after meeting him, his teacher noticed that something just wasn’t right.

“Fast Break” is the story at of three teachers who, despite pressure to do nothing and say nothing, find the courage to fight for their students. Two boys who are far from home and being mistreated by those who were supposed to care for them.

Over the course of seven months, the three women granted several dozen interviews to NJ Advance Media. They said they were heartbroken when the players tearfully begged for help. They explained why they dug into their pockets to help move the boys out of Paterson. And they each recalled the moment when they knew it was time to defy a boss who they said told them not to act on the players’ pleas and “stay in your lane.”

Here’s just a taste of the story:

Out of options, he went to a Dunkin’ Donuts and bought a cup of coffee so he would have a free internet connection and a warm place for the night, the teachers said. The next morning, he caught a bus back to Paterson. Desperate, he logged into Google Classroom and emailed one of his teachers, the only ally he felt he had in New Jersey, pleading for help.

The teacher saw the email a few hours after it was sent Tuesday. She shared the news with the others, and they all said they were terrified by the circumstances.

Ratzker was tasked with finding Jackson — and fast. With long blonde hair and a big smile, she approached the mission with singlemindedness, knowing she needed to find her student and make sure he was safe.

She tracked down a phone number and discovered Jackson was still at the Paterson bus station, about a mile from Eastside. During discussions in the school office, Ratzker said other employees made it clear they didn’t want to get involved.

“I’m not leaving a child at the Paterson bus station,” Ratzker said. “Are you guys crazy? I’m going to get him.”

To read this riveting story in its entirety, click here. 



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