What do you tell your students, staff and families?
We are always told to welcome and greet students each day. Making sure we check in with students helps to connect them to our school and classroom. Additionally, the morning meeting provides opportunities to identify any issues to address early to prevent from escalating to something more.
How do we end our day with students? What do we do to ensure they will transition from school to home in a positive way? This helps our bus drivers with those sometimes long commutes! Also, our children may be going home alone or to take on the role of caring for siblings.
Do we reflect on the partnership we have with parents in helping with these transitions from home to school and school to home? Lots of things happen in between we all need to know to help better serve the needs of all.
There is a great deal to know about every story behind every child. Daily they provide us with looks into the pages, but never a full read from cover to cover.
During my years as principal I served students in high poverty areas where gangs were present and so many other issues facing them. We designed many programs, strategies, approaches and curriculum to support their needs. We were adding layers and layers still never seeming to be enough.
My students knew my vision, beliefs and expectations. They could repeat my words, would freely come to talk to me about issues and most importantly, understood I would never give up on them! How do I know? Let me share just one story I struggle with because I just do. I will not say his name but will call him Jay!
Jay entered middle school in 6th grade as part of our AVID (Achievement via Individual Determination) program. He continued with excellent grades until 7th grade we started having a few issues. By 8th grade a complete breakdown and removal from the program, an arrest by the police and involvement with gangs.
The story is missing many parts, interventions, conversations, and interactions we had together. My story had some changes during that time as well. He was preparing for high school and I was transferring to the central office.
I had fantastic staff members who recognized this was a difficult transition for me. They organized a special gift for me by having some of the students I worked with the most sign a message to me on a beautiful picture of a tree with a quote. Jay’s message meant a great deal to me. “Thank you for never giving up on me.”
He would see me at the high school when I would go to visit and he would make sure to come to talk to me. Then he found himself in trouble again and again.
No matter where I went I always placed students and families first. No matter what meeting I was in my staff knew to interrupt if it involved them.
A note came to me while I was attending a central office meeting stating my secretary was on the phone and needed me. I asked to me excused.
“You told me to interrupt you if a student called you and needed you. I have one on the phone.”
“Thank you, transfer to me.” Mrs. Yoho, he said
“Jay, what is going on?”
“You said we could always call for help. I need help with bus transportation to school my mom kicked me out.”
I went to pick him up, got the transportation arranged, provided my cell phone number and talked with his principal.
In the car to take him to his grandmother’s where he was living, we had a chance to talk briefly. Jay told me I had saved his life more than once and he was trying to do better. He was praying and doing all the things I had talked to him about. He said, “You never give up on me.” Absolutely not! I believe in you! I know how smart you are and I trust you. Call me anytime you need help and I will do what I can. “Thank you.” were the last words I heard from him.
The newscaster came on to say 18-year-old found in running vehicle with a gunshot to the head. His name is…. My heart sunk, I gasped for air and heard myself saying why did you not call me one more time.
Jay is one story of many we take home with us. The trauma our children experience we experience second hand. We have to recognize these in order to care for ourselves. Jay and I obviously had built a relationship spacing many years. I have many stories to tell about him and so many others. I have more heartwarming stories than heartbreaking ones.
My husband was always concerned for my safety because I never hesitated to help children. Yes, Jay had gang involvement, gun charges, and not the best record. As I started, I trusted my kids, they trusted me (even when I had to pass out discipline), and their families knew me.
Jay’s death hit me hard as I saw a young man who had everything against him but was so smart, funny, handsome, such a personality, and so much in front of him. Don’t we want to save everyone?
What we say is heard by the ears of those we don’t think are listening. Are our ears, eyes, and mind open to what is being told to us? We cannot control everything, but we can continue to make strides in improving.
I dedicate my days to continue helping others break down the barriers to help children overcome to find their success. We each have a story, obstacles of our own, but we all can overcome them with the right resources, people, and supports.
Please find supports to help your students and families. However, most importantly, have a wellness plan to support all of your staff who experience second-hand trauma daily. They are building relationships with children and families. When things are not going well for the people, we serve it weighs on us as well.