My office is connected to the guidance counselors' offices. I have the pleasure of seeing students enter and exit the office all day. It gives me an additional connection to the students and the school, where students are more themselves, open to discussing their current and future plans, their likes and dislikes, and their personal interests, in a way that is challenging to connect with when in classrooms. Students will poke their heads into my office just to say hello, ask me questions about something in school, or even to dote over pictures of my kids (sometimes as a class avoidance technique). I really enjoy talking to the students and getting to know them as people, as opposed to knowing them as their most recent ACT score.
When a counselor sends a student over to my office, it is usually to have the student attempt to explain to me why they do not need to be in one of their current classes. Students also learn quickly, that they are well counseled into these classes and it is a rare occasion where a student places a quality argument in front of me where the dropping of a course for a study hall might be considered. Through the course of this discourse, I end of having a conversation with the students about their plans in a few short months, after they have graduated. Most recently, I learned a valuable lesson from one of these students.
As the conversation with this student was winding down, I asked the traditional question that I ask: "So, what are your plans for next year?". The student responded, with some trepidation, "Oh, I am going to college". Something about her response caught my ear and I waited a few moments before saying anything. These moments were the tipping point. In those short moments of silence and waiting, I noticed a tear had begun to run down her cheek. I picked up the box of Kleenex and handed it to her and asked "What is the matter"?
She told me that she wasn't sure of what she was going to do next year. She had been rejected from a few schools, accepted to a few others, but not sure how to pay for any of it. She had just gotten a job and thought that she could work and go to school, but if she did that, she was going to need to attend a local community college, instead of going away to school.
I told her that is not a reason to be upset, you have a plan in place to complete early requirements at a cheaper cost and then transfer into a school to complete the degree. I told her that this is sometimes better than just going away to school without any idea of what you would like to do or study. This is when she told me that she was embarrassed to say this option to her friends and teachers. She said it made her feel like a failure that she could not afford to go away to school right away. She said that she was afraid that she might never be able to get away from her home town if she went to the community college and worked. She said that she was losing sleep over this potential option and was having some thoughts that scared her.
I was able to calm her down as we continued to talk. I asked if she had told anyone about these thoughts she was having or the fear she was experiencing and she said no. I got her counselor into the office and I asked the student if I could share her story with her counselor, and she agreed. The counselor was surprised to hear this information from one of the higher ranked students in the class. This student had given no indication of any of these feelings or thoughts to anyone, at home or at school.
I thanked the student for sharing this information with me. I asked her if she thought some of her friends might be feeling the same and she replied, "I don't know". I asked her counselor to sit with her and develop a plan of attack to get some scholarships applied for, to know which classes she should focus on at the community college, and develop a timeline of work and school and how and when she could transfer. The counselor and the student exited my office and worked together for a while. They contacted the student's mother to make sure that the burden of this fear could be shouldered by more than just the student and it also let the student know that she was not alone in this.
After a while, the student poked her head back in my office to thank me. I told her that I needed to thank her for being strong enough to share this information with me. She looked confused and I told her that, sometimes, the hardest thing to do, is to let someone know we are not perfect and that we need help. I asked her, what made her decide to share her story with me and she told me that it was the silence. She said that she noticed that I was there to listen and not fill a vacancy of sound.
When I look at my seniors walking the halls, I now look at them and wonder, are they just sharing an answer that they think we want to hear or are they really telling us what their plans are for next year? Unfortunately, I think it is the former more frequently than that latter. This was one student that almost got away. Thankfully, we with the support of multiple people at school, she was able to develop a more tangible plan to address her concerns. Thankfully, she was strong enough to let someone know that she needed some assistance.
Before she left my office to go back to class, I asked her to do one thing: share her story. I told her that she, most likely, has many friends who are experiencing the same things that she was. Her story could let them know that they are not alone and that there are people here to help them sort out these issues and others. Other students will become stronger because of her sharing.
We cannot let other students become ones that got away.