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Never, Ever, Give up on a Kid!

For years I have talked with my staff members about the importance of maintaining a connection between a student and the school for as long as possible, even when you are convinced that the child will lose this connection. I strongly believe, and have frequently said (pontificated, preached?), that every day we can keep a child connected in a positive way increases the chance that the child will have a positive memory of school, and even if they become disconnected will increase their chances of returning and finding success.

The problem is that we rarely see this happen. Instead, what happens is the child moves, is taken into ministry care, falls into the drug world, or something else and we are left feeling like our efforts were futile and did no good. Standing behind my beliefs, when this has happened I have debriefed with staff members reminding them that they have left an impression on the child, and have increased that child’s chances for success.

This week I received confirmation that this is true, and am so proud to know that the staff I worked with, who fought so hard for a child only to watch him slip away, now knows they did good, and helped guide an amazing young man through part of a difficult childhood. Although it wasn’t easy at the time, they showed compassion and respect and THEY MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Last Wednesday I met up some family members at a taco place for a quick birthday gathering (don’t, ask how we ended up at a taco place, I am kinda thinking it was meant to be) it was a little crazy with 5 kids between 4 months and 9 years old, and I must admit I was slightly flustered when I arrived at the till. Not surprisingly, as it happens about once a week, I heard a familiar line, in a familiar tone, “Mr. Pearse? Is that you?” But on my end, I was blank, looking at the tall, fit, we’ll kept young man before me, I had no clue who he was.

Once he told me his name, I had to ask him to take off his hat to actually believe who was standing there. As he extended his hand for a shake, that meant more than any words could ever say, I was in complete disbelief that this student, of all the troubled kids I knew, appeared to have made it through.

He was working, so we didn’t initially get the chance to talk, but as I sat down my wife asked who the kid was, I told her and it was a name she remembered me talking about 7 years earlier (this says something about the kid!). “Looks like he made it,” she said!

As we finished dinner, he got off work and we had a chance to catch up. I heard stories of foster care, being kicked out of schools, cocaine, group homes, extasy, selling drugs, owing money, arrests, and finally an alternative school back in our district, some success, reunion with his mother, getting clean, focussing on martial arts, A’s on report cards, and graduation from a regular high school program.

I am proud that we never gave up on this boy, to the last day he was at our school we fought for him, and from the look on his face when he shook my hand, I know that he knew it!

By showing kids that you care about them and believe that they can be successful you will not always be able to prevent them from going through tough times. But what you can do is give them hope, give them a positive memory to cling to, and provide them with the knowledge that there are people in the world who will help them when they are ready. And although you may not always find out about it, you will make a difference! (1953)

3 comments

  1. Wow Frank, that is a powerful story. One kid at a time is such an important key concept that needs to inform us as we find ways to meet each child’s needs. Rather than the thinking that if we develop better ways to shape behavior through rewards or punishments (“zero tolerance” thinking), we need to pull kids who are struggling and their families in and work closely WITH them to puzzle through tough situations. We need to pull together as a learning community to support them. Sounds like this is what your school did for this kid – seeing him on the other end is so heartwarming. Thanks for sharing this story.

  2. gmiyanaga says:

    My mom was telling me about this poem she found. It reminded me of this post.

    Your message is powerful. We make a difference,so we can’t give up (though we might not see the benefits in the short term).

    I took a piece of plastic clay
    And idly fashioned it one day,
    And as my fingers pressed it, still
    It bent and yielded to my will.

    I came again, when days were passed,
    The bit of clay was hard at last,
    The form I gave it, still it bore,
    But I could change that form no more.

    Then I took a piece of living clay
    And gently formed it, day by day
    And molded with my power and art,
    A young child’s soft and yielding heart.

    I came again when years were gone,
    It was a man I looked upon.
    He still that early impress bore,
    And I could change it, nevermore.

    Author Unknown

  3. This is why we are in the “business” of working with kids. When we meet our students and find out their stories we realize that in the short time we worked with them, believed in them, we share a hope for success with them.