What I learned in school today..

Always grateful when Friday rolls around and here we are.  Writing this, as the weekend approaches and unfolds, allows me to prioritize those moments as I do my “week in review” in my head.  This was a very abundant week, both in work and in life.  That is a positive position to be in, because it means that I have experienced so much and life is full in so many ways.

Some background…. for the past 13 plus years, I have been working in a high school.  The New Bedford community has one public high school and a vocational technical high school.  I work at the public high school which has approximately 2100 students.  My job title has gone from “crisis counselor” to its current iteration of “student support counselor/school adjustment counselor”.  My profession  training is as a clinical social worker.  Working in an urban high school is challenging in many ways. The community is seeped in history of  whaling and textiles, of moments of great wealth from whale oil to manufacturing, but now we struggle to redefine ourselves.  It is a city of despair at times and economic challenges and yet there is a resiliency that I feel every day, especially at our school.  We are a melting pot of diversity and that is probably one of the greatest strengths in  our connections with our students.  We are a mix, like elsewhere in the country, of people who were born here, people who came here as immigrants, people who fled their native countries and sought asylum, and those who came for better opportunities. The children are a mix of all of those possibilities.  As the child of immigrant parents, who arrived in the United States as adolescents, fleeing oppression from Nazi Germany, I recognize the challenges and sacrifices, as well as the culture shock of being strangers in a strange land.  These are the students I speak to and listen to.  Many of our students have arrived here on their own, without family.  We become their family, albeit a rather large, sometimes conflicted, dysfunctional family.  We welcome you because even if we don’t know you, we know someone like you.  It is often as though we are looking in the mirror.

This week, a teacher came to see me, because not only do I support the students, but often the teachers need some direction or resources for their own challenges.  This time, I listened to a story about a student, who had come from somewhere distant, on their own, with no family here.  This student became extremely ill and was now fighting an illness, and laying in a Boston hospital.  The helplessness and strong emotional response was palpable in her every word.  She asked the question “What can we do? How can we help?”  This student arrived in New Bedford, ready to work and to learn, with little formal education and now was derailed from their dreams, struggling with serious health issues and no significant supports.  The teacher asked, if in my role as part of what is known as the “Culture and Climate” committee whether we could come up with some way to help.  This is what I do best, solve a problem and quickly.  Triage is part of my DNA, and as quickly as I could type an email, I wrote to our administrator and asked if we could begin a donation jar and she responded back immediately in the affirmative.  The next step was to meet with our art teachers and ask them to help create, with student input, cards for everyone to sign during the lunch periods.  They all responded that it would happen. It was a mission we could all embrace.  Within 24 hours the cards were designed, signatures and heartfelt, meaningful messages were written, and funds were pouring in to the big jar.  I walked around the cafeteria during my lunch duty and brought the big cards to each table. I explained what was happening and students volleyed for the pen, to draw a picture, write a prayer both in Spanish and in English or just sign their names.  They probably didn’t know the student, but it didn’t matter.   “Stay strong….keep smiling….get well….feel better”.  This is the best of what we are about.  Our school has struggles but lack of humanity and connection and a willingness to participate, even if you don’t know the person, is not one of our issues.  The cards and funds will be hand delivered tomorrow. The teacher, who has only been on staff for two years, was mystified and delighted by the response of everyone.  We may not agree about everything academic, but compassion and hope is a path we can follow.  It was a good week, a full week, and made me remember why I do what I do.  How lucky am I.  Have a great weekend.

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