We have just come from talking to the principal of the Alternative High School, Hannah and Steve and I, and for the first time in a long time, I have a really good feeling. We were in with him for just not quite an hour, he answered every question that any of us had, and was very, very encouraging. Of course Hannah’s success depends upon HER, whether it is here or somewhere else, and he did acknowledge that openly. In fact, he told Hannah, “If you fail here, it is because failing is a choice you have made. We are all here to help you succeed, but whether you DO succeed is up to you.”
So many things that are good about this…one is the sheer size, or lack thereof. The average number of students in the entire high school is 150; this breaks down to between 15-18 students per classroom-as opposed to between 38-42 in the high school. There are less than half as many kids in the entire school than there are in Hannah’s graduating class at the high school. They have two classes a day, for two and a half hours, and they ONLY take two classes per quarter. No trying to remember if it is an A day or a B day, no shuffling to five different classrooms, none of that. During first period they get a ten minute break, and then lunchtime falls during the second period, so it isn’t as if they are sitting still all that time, either. If she does what she is supposed to do, there should be little or no homework-because part of the reason for the longer class sessions is to allow them to do the assignments with the teacher right there to answer questions and provide hands-on help. Oh-and a big one (because this is one of my biggest pet peeves about so called public education!) is that there are NO FEES. At all. No registration fees, no small classroom fees, no lab or computer fees…nothing. None.
Every teacher there-and I think he said he has 12 0r 13-is there because they want to be, not because they got demoted to working with the troubled kids. Two of them, himself and the vice-principal, have extensive backgrounds in therapy/counseling, and they both took their jobs because they wanted to see what they could do to help BEFORE these kids got sent to Juvenile Detention Centers or Residential Behavioral Treatment Centers. And isn’t that what I have been looking for? Someone to help intervene before Hannah ended up there?
They don’t offer counseling/therapy per se, where one of them meets with Hannah once week for an hour…but they DO have an open door policy in terms of if Hannah needs to talk to someone or something comes up that she can’t handle emotionally, they are there. Mr. K said that typically, the new kids don’t talk to anyone for the first six weeks; they watch to see how the adults handle different situations, they listen to what is said and not said, and he said that they (the adults) have to work really hard to gain the kids’ trust, and THEN the kids start feeling comfortable enough to talk. They address violence in and outside the classrooms, from fighting and bullying to sexual assault and molestation and rape-date rape and otherwise. So things WILL come up, he said, and since all of the teachers have worked with kids in that setting for years, they are all alert to trouble signs-and can intervene. He advocated at this point to just let her be for the next 6 weeks. Let her adjust, let her watch them and vice versa, and then we can explore other resources in terms of therapy. For some reason, that made sense to me. She is going to be watched and monitored, she is going to be SAFE, and as much as I want to push to therapy issue because I think she HAS to, the way he phrased it made sense. Let her breathe, basically. Lift some of the weight OFF her shoulders right now and let her get her bearings back, and then we’ll see what next step we need to take. And it was very much a WE kind of a thing.
One thing I really like, too, is that he allowed Hannah to be part of it all, and then told her, “Okay, Hannah. Your mom and Steve both took time off of work to come in here with you and ask every right question there is. I now know all that you have been through, I know what things your mom and Steve have done to help you. Subsequently, I know that if you come to me and tell me how your mom just couldn’t take time off work or “forgot” to sign something or didn’t even look at your report card, then you are lying to me, and I won’t fall for it.” I swear I could hear her gulp. Accountability!
So-there was more I wanted to say, but right now I am just feeling really grateful. I know this isn’t the miracle cure, I know that just because I feel good about it doesn’t mean it is going to change everything overnight, or even at all. Hannah is the key, and it remains to be seen whether she decides she want to succeed or not. However, this feels like the best opportunity we have been given yet. I balked about sending her there, I really did, simply because of the stigma associated with it, because of the fact that most of the kids are there on probation of some sort, and I didn’t want her to associate with them. BUT: After talking to Mr.K, I really think this could be a good place for her. Strict, sure-but she needs it. Understanding and compassion, absolutely, but no pity, and what happened to her is no excuse for failing life.
So I am breathing today, too. I pray for this to be a beginning. For it be a good place for Hannah, where she can learn and grow and heal at her own pace, and without making choices that will alter her life irrevocably. Let this be a way to help me finally be able to give my other three kids what THEY need, too, because they have been put to the side too many times over the last year. It has been necessary, sure, but they need more of me, too.
Breathing. Praying. Grateful.