Friday, April 14, 2006

a few good educators

This morning I went to a site meeting at one of my schools, where I met with the Principal, one of my (3) supervisors and a co-therapist who also works at the school. In the course of 30 minutes, the principal had me moved to tears at least 3 times.

The woman is so incredibly in love with and passionate about her job. She puts in looooong hours at the school, mind you, but she is so refreshingly optimistic and caring and full of compassion. It is no wonder that the kids in her continuation school are doing amazingly well.

The way it works is that the kids at the big school (4200 students) who get in gang fights, get pregnant, flunk out, or altogether mess up get sent to this school, with continuation and independent study programs (355 students). It's a brand-new school this year, with a staff that is over 50% new. The principal, however, has been in the business for years. And it shows--in all the good ways, I mean.

She brought in one student who last year was at the big school--getting in fights, hanging out with a rough crowd, failing school. Two nights ago she was given a college scholarship at a major district awards ceremony. The principal, with the student in the room, acknowledged that she was messing up pretty bad last year, but that she is "brilliant" and "going places" and "the star of the school" for being the only student from her school to receive a scholarship.

Then she told us the story (I'd heard it before, but it still made me tear up) about Halloween this year. There was a scheduled costume contest at lunchtime in the gym. No students really dressed up, but when the teen moms walked their babies down from the on-site daycare, all the students (300+ that day) started clapping and cheering and applauding. All the awards quickly changed from "best student costume" to "best baby costume" and "cutest baby costume" and "most original baby costume." She remarked how at the other school, a lot of these girls had been called bad names, ridiculed for being teen moms, or just treated badly. But at her school, these kids were accepted and supported.

And another kid who kept messing up, she told him he lost his privilege to be there at lunch. Every day a teacher or administrator escorted him off campus before the start of lunch. He came to the principal, at first saying, "you guys all are on my case." Soon it changed to, "you all know my name but you know I'm not supposed to be here," and then, "If I can show you all that I'm improving, will you let me stay at lunch?" For this kid, once he learned that the staff was going to be consistent with him, his guard went down and he allowed them to love him back to campus. He improved his behavior and is back on campus at lunch, rubbing elbows with the staff who once shooed him away.

The principal kept talking about how the students feel so loved and supported by their teachers, and I know in my heart it is because she is at the top of the chain. She loves and supports and encourages these students unlike any educator I've ever seen. She know them by name. She throws her arm around big, tough kids with a side-hug. She sets students up with health services and college information and drug treatment and counseling. And she never judges. She sees each kid for the potential they have within.

Just what I needed to finish up my week. Somebody else who cares so much about these kids she still chokes up when talking about how easy it is for them to change with a little love.

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