About five years ago I was a teacher at a trauma-informed independent school in CT, and our student body consisted of about 50 or so high school students who in some shape or form, experienced severe physical and emotional trauma and abuse.
A good percentage of our students also had IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) or 504s and were classified with some cognitive or executive function disorder that made all of the “other stuff” that much harder for these tweens and teens who experienced suffering more than safety.
Most of these students’ parents were in and out of jail, as were the students…
Many lived with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or family friend, but many lived in a foster home or group home.
A Different Type Of School
As teachers, boundaries took on a whole different meaning than they did at a regular mainstream high school.
Instead of keeping “our distance” and warned to never, ever drive a student home from school because we would be breaking every student-teacher rule in the handbook—-at this school hugs were an everyday ritual, personal, healing conversations were encouraged— as was picking them up on our way to work so they could get to school that day instead of staying home, alone, or go somewhere they shouldn’t and not return to school for another month.
At our academy, we were encouraged to walk with them to a local deli and buy them lunch or an ice cream cone knowing it might be their only meal of the day ; or drive them “home,” knowing that if we didn’t, “unfortunate events” may take place on their long, long walk to wherever they called “home” that given week or month.
At our school, our students were our family, and not one adult who signed on to teach here could for one minute ever live with themselves if they didn’t do EVERYTHING they felt they needed to do to ensure that every single one of these kids were “safe,” and were experiencing healthy relationships, love, respect, and resilience as regularly as was humanly possible.
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So since it was hard to be a part of this unique, supportive and loving school community without “taking things in” and really paying attention to all of the nuances, subtleties, and quiet, soft voices that could easily be missed amidst the noisy chatter, fights, and daily demands and responsibility to “teach” these students whatever and however we could—–one day I chose to “really” pay attention to one student in particular who had my heart in his hand the first day we met, impressing me with his soft-spoken voice, eye contact, and resolute love and respect for his grandmother, who took on the role of” mom” many years before.
So, since writing is my way of processing my experiences, and reflecting on all of the little things we usually miss— I wrote a blog about this one student, and it went like this:
Justo – Fixing Broken Hearts, the story of a life transfomed…
Have you ever been involved with a school like this?
If so, what was your experience?
About the author; Hilary S. Wolfson
I am a special education and English teacher who feels privileged to have worked for many years in some really unforgettable school communities, where on a daily basis we would be teaching “the whole child,” but every once in a while we would be teaching children who were broken into many pieces, so fragile and so mistrustful, it was always a “win” when they would sit outside with you on a bench and just “sit there,” feeling safe, respected, and content–just sitting near someone that they knew “had their back.”
My story is about one student I worked with at a very special school in CT. I hope it resonates with others who have learned that sometimes just “being there” —-can be enough.