Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Sorry everyone, this will be a work post. And a venting post.

I know I've talked about my job a little before...just to recap, I'm a grant-funded high school social worker/counselor who specifically works with students who are failing 3+ classes, are significantly behind in credits, have habitual truancy issues, are on probation, and/or have discipline issues. Mainly, the kids I see have a combination of academic and truancy problems.

My job is to be a support for them. Many of these kids have never had anyone truly believe in them. I honestly think that about 98% of the kids on my caseload can succeed and graduate from high school...they just don't. They don't have the support at home - many of their parents are high school dropouts, and they don't care if their kids get their diplomas or not. Many of these parents rely on their kids to work several hours a week in order to help support the household (I have students who work 40+ hours a week! In high school! Can you imagine?). Many are just, well, lazy...they don't live up to their potential because they just plain don't know how. A lot have troubled pasts...a few of my girls have been raped, abused, etc., and have never received the counseling/therapy they need. It goes on and on.

Do I feel like I can actually do this job, keep kids in school? I don't know. I have a good relationship with 99% of my kids. They trust me, and some even drop in to see me and just say hi. I have one or two who are very suspicious of me - they've never had an actual relationship with their counselor and assume I have an ulterior motive.

I strive every day to show my kids that I care about them. That I believe in them. That I want nothing more than to see them walk across that stage and get their high school diplomas. Because it's true. many of my kids are so far gone. They are "seniors" with freshman credits. They don't see a reason to stay in school, and maybe if we had met 4 years ago it would have been different.

Since I started this job in October - only five months ago - 20 of my students have withdrawn. This. kills. me. Some of them I barely knew - I had several withdraw during the three weeks I was gone for my wedding in November. But others, I've been very close with.

One girl (we'll call her A) initially ended up in my office because she was caught in the library making a report card. Why? Because she was too scared of her father to show him her actual report card. A is a sweet girl. She has been moved around a lot by her family (which doesn't do a child any favors, FYI) and is uncomfortable in Bloomington. Last week, she came into my office in a panic, asking for a ride home because her bus had left without her. She was busy talking to her assistant principal because she had gotten in trouble that day.

She didn't know what to do or how to get home. Her dad has been in the hospital since January - now with a trach - due to end-stage emphysema. Her mom was with her dad in the hospital - about an hour away from Bloomington. Her mom didn't know how to get to the high school. I told her I would drive her home, and then discovered that she lived 45 minutes away in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana. During the drive, I quickly discovered that she didn't know how to get to her trailer park. We took several wrong turns before she realized we were in the wrong place. When we finally got to the park, she informed me that basically no one lives there except her family right now, because it is a summer trailer park. Which leads me to believe that the trailers aren't winterized. It was about 20 degrees that day.

Driving back to the school after dropping her off, I felt like shit. I felt like shit because it seems like she has everything against her. Parents who either don't care, are physically intimidating, or aren't physically there - depending on the day/month. Both A and her mother have mental health issues. A has never been engaged with school - she has never seen a reason to go. Yet she had been going, regularly, and checking in with me regularly.

This morning, I saw her walking through the guidance office out of the corner of my eye. She was with a friend I hadn't seen before. I heard her say to her friend, "I just f***ing hate this f***ing school." I decided to send a pass for her later this afternoon to check in. But before I had the chance...she dropped by to see me, saying that she had already met with her counselor. Tomorrow is her last day - she is withdrawing.

Why? Why in the middle of the semester, when she'll lose all the work she's done since January? She told me that her dad is being discharged from the hospital on Friday, and her mom needs her at home to help take care of him. She is attending an alternative high school in the fall.

Clearly, I'm bummed out. I gave her a hug, wished her the best. And now I wonder if I can ever truly succeed at trying to keep these kids in school.


Anonymous said...

I totally understand your frustration. It's hard to see so much potential in someone and have that knowledge and faith in them, only to have them be completely oblivious or in denial of it.

This may be similar, not entirely the same as your situation, but I was told that I need to keep in mind that therapy is only an hour a week. 50 minutes out of 24 hours a day out of 7 days a week. That's all we have with them and if, for that time, we have comforted them, empathized, and just been there, then we have done our job.

If we could change the world, we would, but you never know what impact you will make on that girl. Perhaps in the future, she will recall a conversation she had with you and strive for something bigger and better. That's the kind of hope we need to keep on holding onto.

I feel you, though. It's pretty rough.

Taryn said...

You are making a difference. Maybe you can't get them all to graduate, but you can influence their life in a positive way. A will never forget that you drove her home- she needed you and you were there for her. that will leave an impact.

I hope you do not get too discouraged, but there is only so much you can do for them- you can't make them do anything.

katie said...

wow that's heavy... but you have the right heart and put all you have into it, what else can you do? i agree with brown eyed girl, you never know what you said to her that could change her life.

Dugout Daisy said...

You are an amazing person for caring so much about what you do for these kids. I was the only one to go to a four-year college out of my 30 or so cousins from my dad's side of the family, and half of them never graduated from high school. When kids don't have the support they don't see a point in doing something. That even rings true for things that we come across in our lives too. Keep at it. I know it must get you down to see the kids leave, but think of the kids that are going to stay because of you, that is just so amazing. You are amazing and are making a difference in their lives, whether you see it or not.


Pretty Personal Gifts said...

What you do makes a difference even if the outcome isn't what you hoped for. Your influence on these kids will help them. Don't give up on them even if they give up on themselves. I can't imagine how frusterating this must be. I feel like I live in a bubble.

Lucky in Love said...

What a tough job you have! You obviously care so much for these kids and I know that sometimes it feels like you are not getting anywhere with them...but hang in there. You said that you have a great relationship with most of them...which is worth sticking it out for. You're a person they can count on.

It's so sad that these parents are not there for these kids...and that there are so many of them!

kilax said...

That must be so hard. She fought it as much as she could... but that wasn't enough. There may be some kids where there is NEVER anything to get them to stay. Just keep being you and caring. I am sure she'll remember you :)

Casey said...

I think the best analogy I ever heard was comparing working with children to the work of a dentist. No matter how many strategies and tools the dentist gives the child, without home support and follow up care, the end result is significantly worse than it could be.

And to think Obama wants to give incentive pay. What about the teachers that volunteer to take on kids like yours? They get paid less? Totally wrong.

Keep your head up!

Jenn said...

hang in there - try to think more about the people that you get to STAY in school rather than the ones that drop out. So 20 kids have withdrawn. without you, probably 40 or 50 might have! it does sound tough though. :(