You first get to know many "problem" students through a random moment of glancing at a progress report. You might meet them in a PowerSchool check. There is a discipline referral that is about dress code or cursing or a walk off the campus. They end up owing credit recovery for absences or they are on the list for truancy. Sometimes, they spring up immediately in a folder that is thick. You can tell by the heft, quite often, that their road has been a troubled one. A foster care designation is often a tragic surety of a dead-end future. Word gets to you about a divorce, a job loss.
You make lists, you send out passes, you go into classrooms, and you look for them in the cafeteria or hallway. Quite often they don't come to your office, because they are absent or they just won't come. They will take the pass and head out of their room, wander around, and then never come to the office, betting on not getting caught.
There is a disassociative quality to the whole thing that can set in, and then...you meet them.
They finally come in, maybe because they know that they can't get away with not doing so, or they want to get out of class, or possibly, quite often, they want some help, some affirmation, something. And, you work hard to give that to them, after there is some rapport established over minutes, then hours, then days, then weeks, months, years. A comfort zone can develop with them, a fondness for their idiosyncocrasies, sometimes their excuses, and you feel for their desperate moments, their hopelessness. You work with them to smooth their path, come up with a plan, pat them on the back after good moments. Sometimes, you kick their arse for rudeness to a teacher, for apathy, for crossing the line back to the bad place.
Progress is made, then setbacks come. A home situation deterioates, a project isn't turned in, and a test is failed. You call for them, then notice that they are absent for one, two, three days. A class is failed, a court apperance occurs, and they come in despondent. You notice that they are dressed too casually, with unshaved faces or their piercings in their face, more so than usual. (There is a forgiveness for such things in the Counseling Center, but a scolding does take place.). Then, they want to know about GEDs or homeschooling, and the last two years, as we have no alternative program at my school, information about the Wings Program at DeSoto. Carefully, we lay out options, encourage, to think hard, more often than not, about staying in our school, working out a solution. They nod, look gloomy or indifferent or hopeful, and they leave to go back to class, or quite often, back home again, as they know that the dress code enforcement is coming or the thought of staying in class is too much.
You think happy thoughts, and you might make a hopeful phone call, and you wait. There is a system we have in place, after withdrawals started not showing up where they claimed they were going a few years ago. We have a withdrawal form given through Cheryl Holt, counseling secretary, then onto our transition specialist Terrye Lybrand, who works closely with the students and their parents in figuring their next step, which can be a simple transfer to another school because of a move, but with these students it is a good bye to the regular route. If we have our head down or get busy, we don't notice that they have shuffled through.
First Class e-mail dings, and there is a missing subject line. This indicates that a student has transferred out.
The hours spent rush back, there is a gut punched feeling, cursing a bit mixed in that you don't have a magic wand or even a mundane solution in that true alternative school that has so much going for it but that.
Then, you say a little prayer, asking for the blessings denied for or by that student leaving, and you move on to the next one, hoping for some fresh air of success to inflate your will. The papers, the folders, the reports walked and breathed, laughed and cried in your office, and you feel better and worse for knowing them as the people they became to you. Sometimes, news comes back to you that they graduated and are happy. Sometimes, you hear about their police report or their new baby on the way.
You frown and smile, then you turn to the fresh progress report on your desk, dreading the ding that might come in a quiet moment.