This is still a hard story to tell, not because it doesn’t end well, but because it brings back difficult times for me. But, it’s worth telling, so educators might take something away worth keeping… just in case.
Quite a few years ago, my College initiated a dual credit, Early Childhood program at a local metropolitan high school. I spent two years there, getting it off the ground, before handing the baton to a high school instructor.
This high school career/tech center drew students from quite a few surrounding counties. They spent every morning in their respective programs and then returned to their home schools before lunch. My last year there, I had a group of fourteen juniors and seniors, two of whom were boys.
I am always truly enthused to see males interested in Early Childhood, because I see them being so valuable to young children and our profession. Both of these young men were extraordinary students and had bright futures.
Then, one of the boys was absent for an entire week, with no notification given as to why. Being concerned, I called his home school. The school counselor informed me the boy had been in a serious automobile accident. The car he was driving was struck by another driver who ran a stop sign. My student was injured, but not seriously. His two passengers, however, were not so lucky. One was air-lifted to a hospital and the third boy died at the scene.
He returned to my class after two weeks. He was bruised and had some facial wounds, but otherwise appeared to be on the mend. I didn’t realize just then, that he really was not.
As the days went by, I noticed his personality and demeanor were changing. He wasn’t participating much in our discussions and wasn’t his usual, animated self. He was withdrawing.
I had built a pretty good rapport with these students. We spent the first fifteen minutes or so of every morning sitting together, just sharing. One day, this young man wanted to talk about the accident and shared that even though the other driver hit his car, he still thought he could have done something to avoid the accident. I made that mental note. Then, I called his school counselor again, asking if any of his teachers had been picking up on his behavior changes and disturbing comments. He called me back later that day to report that none of them had noticed anything in particular. What? Another mental note.
During our chats, the students always liked hearing about me and my family and I decided to share the story of my youngest son.
He had been a high school senior, with plans to attend college the next fall. He was a good student, a varsity soccer player, and had a girlfriend. But, right after the holidays that year, everything came apart. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I told them he was literally lost to us for five years. Only through persistence, trial and error, obstacles, and heartbreak, were we finally able to find the right doctor and combination of medications to help him. Although not totally recovered (few ever do) and despite some occasional setbacks, he is able to function and once again enjoy his life.
My student waited that day until everyone else had left for their busses to talk to me. I remember his face as he looked at me and asked, “Mrs. Pierce, did your son say if those voices ever went away?” The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Here was a child in trouble. He needed help. Right now.
Once again, I called his school counselor, who assured me he would look into the situation immediately. The end of that week, my student confided he was leaving high school… he just couldn’t continue. I told him to call me if he needed to talk. Then, I watched him walk out of my room and get on his bus. It was one of my saddest moments. I went home and took a plaque with Churchill’s quote, “Never, never, never give up” off my office wall. I mailed it to his home address.
I didn’t hear from him. That is, not for another year and then completely out of the blue. I was sitting at my desk when he called. “Hello, Mrs. Pierce! I just wanted to call to tell you I’ve been in counseling. I finished high school and I’m going to college next year. I also wanted to thank you for caring about me.” We chatted a few more minutes and hung up.
It is so important to just pay attention. Many times, the children who are good, conforming, hard-workers are the ones who are ignored. In reality, they may be the ones we need to pay attention to the most. They may not be loud and annoying and begging to be noticed with flamboyant behaviors, but may still be reaching out for help. It is our responsibility to take the time to see it.