It took several days to even start making sense out of the details we were discovering about this student. Definitely not on grade-level, sketchy attendance records, more times than not, simply not present. No one had consistently gone out looking to see why that was the case. Retention had been tried, with previous schools soon realizing that was not a viable option with any positive outcomes.
Forget the typical medical and shot records, with not even a mention of a family doctor, we soon learned that there were still families back in the coves and hollers of these Appalachian Mountains where children were born on kitchen floors. Add yet another lesson that our team of educators quickly learned: With generations of poverty molding and shaping the lifestyles, along with the lack of opportunities in general, certain family names had become synonymous with "failure."
Raised by a single mother, we worked hard to connect with this woman of few words who had made it clear that she didn't want "no hand-outs." Just when we were about to give up on reaching the mother, I had the idea to personally invite them to one of the family night dinners we sometimes held at the school. I quickly added, "Would you be willing to bring a gallon of sweet tea?" Her answer will never leave me. "No one has ever asked me to bring something to help out at school or any place I've ever darkened the doors of." I sensed a slight softening to the hard exterior of the general mistrust of anyone in authority. Her eyes remained downcast, but her gentle answer surfaced. "I'll do that."
This student, who we all came to love and believe in, stayed at The Learning Center! Charter School through the highest grade we offered at the time. No question we found ways to engage, to target what worked and what did not work with academic goals as we focused on growing this unique learner. We watched the student become comfortable and appropriate in social settings. We sensed an increasing sense of self-awareness and potential.
I have no beautiful ending to this story. A tragedy occurred that ended a young life way too soon.
Good educators see potential in every student.
Great educators move heaven and earth to bring the potential to full bloom.