Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reality Check

I'm not completely naive. I've looked at my students for ten years now and wondered which ones would end up in gangs, pregnant, in jail, etc. I have some clue about the realities of their lives. My first group of fourth graders are 19 now. I think of them as sophomores in college, although that's probably true for only a small percentage of them.

In the past month or so I have learned of the pregnancies of two of my former students. One is a sophomore in high school, the other is a senior. Neither is a shock, but it is still painful. The senior was the one I learned about today. When she was in third grade her mother was pregnant and diagnosed with cancer. Due to the pregnancy there was little they could do. After the baby was born the cancer was so far along there was little hope. She died that year. The father was accused of sexual abuse and the kids were placed in foster care (actually with a staff member at our school who is phenomenal). Near the end of fourth grade, I think, they were placed on a permanent basis with an aunt one county south of us. I was deeply sad to see her leave our school, but thrilled she had found a more stable home.

When my colleague came in today and shared the news I asked her if there was any way to get a letter to this girl. She said that if I could get it to her by 1 today she could pass it on to the girl's aunt. While my first graders did their math centers I sat down to write.
Dear S.,
D. just stopped by my room with a beautiful picture of you in fourth grade. I have, sadly, forgotten the names of many students from the past ten years of teaching but your name has not been lost to me. Your beautiful smile in that picture brought back so many wonderful memories.
She says you are 17 now. I'm sure D. would never lie to me, but it is really hard for me to believe. She also told me about the baby. I have two daughters now; they are 5 and almost 2. I love them more than I can believe possible. I wish you and your little one the very best of luck. You both deserve the most wonderful things this world has to offer.
If there is ever anything I can do to help you, please let me know.
I included my phone numbers and email address. I don't expect to hear from her, but at least it felt like some sort of action on my part.

I'm left wondering what I could and should have done differently for this child. I don't hold myself responsible by any means. I think I am simply looking for some way to control the situation, some way to keep it from happening again. There is little in life that is as depressing as looking at first graders and wondering which ones will become parents long before they are ready.

1 comment:

Ian H. said...

Interesting perspective - I see them at the other end of the spectrum, as pregnant, or stoned, or binge-drinking, and I have a tough time imagining the sweet youngsters they must have been in lower grades...