Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Post by Amy Harksen: Amy is in her 9th year as a school counselor at Bettendorf High School and currently serves in the role of Team Leader. You can follow her on Twitter @AharksenAmy

The news has generally been pretty bad lately. Shootings, terrorism, increasing poverty, and the list goes on. In education, our student population has gotten more challenging and the pressure and burden on teachers and school staff has gotten much larger.

Take, for instance, the case of 16 year old Ann (fictional name to protect confidentiality). She is behind in credits, has poor attendance, and was recently dropped from a class to give her a better chance to pass the others. Frequently, her head is down on the desk and she appears disengaged. She has been given resources from teachers, counselors, and administrators. She reports there are days she sits in the parking lot but can’t bring herself to walk through the door. Kind of looks like another disheartening fail, right?  I see it as a story of heart and hope.

I guess that’s a matter of perspective...

You see, in the past two years, Ann has lived in somewhere around five different homes—sometimes with Mom in a trailer, then Dad and a girlfriend, then Grandma, and occasionally a friend. She has worked some jobs until after 1:00 am and then gone to school the next morning. Out of all these places, she doesn’t feel there is anyone who truly cares. She bought herself a used car, and picked up another job. She has periods of stability and periods where her world falls apart. Consider this 24 hour period of time.

A teacher (the one whose class she was pulled from) stops me to ask about Ann, expressing her sadness over the situation and belief that Ann is intelligent and resilient. We both get emotional discussing her situation. Later that day, I have a note to talk to one of our Associate Principals about Ann. Before I have time to do that, a student reports a girl sobbing in the hall. Without hesitation, a counselor rushes to assist. She returns with a sobbing Ann, and I take her to my office, comforting her as she sobs. She was present when a friend’s Mom (and Mom figure to her) was taken off life support the day before. Her car is dead in the lot, as it has been every day, because it only starts when someone “jumps” it. She needs a new battery but can’t afford it. She is ready to give up. We talk about why she shouldn’t give up, about her value, her strengths, her plans, her resilience and her goals. I enlist our social worker to help with resources, as she is in need of not only a battery, but medical care, and community mental health in addition to what we can offer her in school. He reached out to our “Angel Network,” a community resource of caring people who offer assistance. The Associate Principal who helped her the prior day set up a para-educator to help her not only with schoolwork, but time to seek a job closer to home. Our security officer jumped her car that day. We found assistance in both medical and mental health. That night, a parent of a former student and graduate called me to see if she could drop money off for “a student who needed a car battery.” She had no idea this was my student, yet this single Mom who struggles to make her own ends meet, dropped $25 off to me for this anonymous student. Along with other donations, we had the money for the battery.

How can this not be a story of heart and hope? In 24 hours, a teacher, counselor, social worker, para-educator, administrator, school security officer, outreach worker, and several community members teamed up to help this girl. Ultimately, the goal is to help her graduate and transition to college.

No doubt, this can be viewed as part of the challenge to teach and reach so many students who face hardship. It would be great to have a classroom full of intelligent, engaged, alert, and mentally and physically healthy students, but we can’t measure our success by that. Our success as educators is meeting our students where they’re at and helping them raise a level and leave our school better than when they started. So we continue to develop interventions, enrichments, MTSS, to work in PLC’s, etc. and we need to feel good at what we are endeavoring to do.

This news is positive, hopeful, and validating. And this is just one story of many where our staff goes above and beyond to help our students connect, learn, and excel. I feel lucky to work with a team that cares sincerely about educating our students, with an administration that works beside us, in a school of excellence, in a community that supports.

But that’s just my perspective.

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