Every year, from the time our son, CJ, was in kindergarten until he was in 5th grade, I cringed because I knew I’d get a call from the school. CJ got detentions for things we thought were, well, minor. In fact, we have the “red and yellow light slips” to prove it when he was little (this was the system the school used to display your child’s behavior during class time).
He either mooned the class, farted, or made an underarm fart (classic), or got up and started dancing, shaking his butt for the class to see, kicking tables, teachers, and screaming when he didn’t get his way, going on a laughing frenzy, or he wouldn’t stop talking.
We realized how frustrating that would be. So, my husband and I offered suggestions to help get CJ engaged. We suggested that they give CJ some more time to play outside, to get his energy out. We knew he needed to move to get involved with learning because sitting in a chair was not working for him. We also suggested relating things to sports because he loved sports. I also had several other suggestions, but the teachers would say things like, “We can’t do special things just for your son. He needs to learn the way we present the information.” I understood what they were saying… they didn’t have the time to figure out what he needed to learn during the day.
The last straw was when one teacher said, “You know, I find that mom’s who work full time have children who are a bit more disturbed than those that don’t. Perhaps you may wish to consider having him ‘seen’ to see about helping him find other ways to settle down.”
What the &*#%**?? That was it.
So, my husband and I sought out a school that could possibly see the best in CJ, the way we saw it in him. We found one. Granted, it wasn’t perfect. CJ struggled here and there, particularly with his negative basketball experiences, but, on the whole, the shift to St. John’s Jesuit Academy (SJJ) proved extremely positive. Within a few months of switching schools, CJ went from acting out in school to getting excited about school and doing extremely well, being highly engaged.
What was the difference? We attribute the shift to Mr. Philipp Levering, his religion teacher. Mr. Levering understood and affirmed CJ. He seemed to make CJ feel like he mattered at school. CJ also found great significance from the SJJ track coaches, Mr. Spenthoff and Mr. Black.
CJ graduated from SJJ with a 4.3 GPA and is currently at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio at the Farmers School of Business, and killing it.
My question is: Why can’t there be more Mr. Leverings? Why does Mr. Levering have to be an outlier? Why can’t the “Mr. Leverings” be the norm? Why do we have to pay a premium for a great education?
Time and time again, I hear of kids attributing their shift to being more engaged in school to one or two teachers or coaches. Heck, we can all remember those one or two teachers.
I believe there are SO MANY kids in detention, and who eventually wind up in jail, because the educational system is not set up to dig into the social and emotional wellbeing of the many bright and uniquely gifted students in their seats, just like CJ.
In fact, according to a 2018 study referenced in an Edutopia article, “researchers have shown that different rates of suspensions and expulsions for black and white boys have more to do with adult perceptions of those kids and how they interpret misbehavior—leading to very different outcomes for the same behaviors … Researchers this year (2018) found that this is partly due to implicit bias: Misbehavior is often perceived as more hostile when committed by black boys than when it’s committed by white boys.”
Take Ryan Speedo Green for example, who was featured on 60 minutes this past Sunday. Ryan grew up with a lot of frustration and anger as a child and he got in trouble often. Ryan remembers the first time he felt like someone cared about him at school. It was his 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Hughes. When Ryan was banished to a class for delinquents and sent to a juvenile detention facility, his detention center caseworker, Priscilla Piñeiro-Jenkins, began to unravel his emotions by simply being nice, listening to him, and sharing that she cared for him. Mrs. Piñeiro-Jenkins realized Ryan’s anger wasn’t directed at her. It was directed at what he had to endure, and it was simply how he survived his traumatic experiences. Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Piñeiro-Jenkins planted a seed in Ryan, and when Ryan eventually went to his new school and started experiencing other activities, like opera, that seed grew and grew, and grew. Now, Ryan is the high priest in the temple of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Just wow.
He’s singing opera. Wow.
My heart is so happy for CJ, and for Ryan. They are doing it!
But, there are many more just like them that are in need of an advocate. It starts with us, as leaders and educators, to understand the needs of our customer--our students.
I will continue to work diligently for all of the CJs and Ryans out there, to make certain that teachers like Mr. Levering and Mrs. Hughes are not mere outliers, rather that they are the norm. And, a BIG THANK YOU to all the teachers who are being the difference for your students. I will continue to advocate for schools to have strategies, programs, and systems in place that reflect social and emotional learning, trauma-informed care, and equity for all students.
My work continues.
Interested in having Diana speak to your school or organization, click here to book her. Listen to Archbold Area Schools, Interim Superintendent, Marc Robinson share his thoughts after Diana's "Be The Difference"workshop.