School, A Safe-Haven
Updated: May 21
As a kid, school was a safe-haven for me, even though there were many challenges I faced there. I remember being in kindergarten and thinking, "My teacher is racist. She treats me differently than all of the other (white) kids." I remember when our school re-zoned, and suddenly, most of the black kids got moved to a poorer, less fortunate school. The school was so poor, instead of inside walls separating classrooms, many classrooms were separated by large chalkboards. Recently, I read that the school has issues with lead in its water. I got teased relentlessly there. In fourth grade, I moved again.
At my new school, I had more friends but still got teased. I learned that if I became a class clown, that would take the pressure off of me. So I started to act out and rebel. By seventh grade, I was getting into fights and lashing out at anyone who stepped to me.
During my freshman year of high school, I was out of control, hanging out with kids who smoked weed and made poor choices. My grades slipped to an all-time low, even though I was smart. The next year, I would end up in an alternative school. Junior year, I was at my third high school. Senior year, I went to my fourth high school.
But even with all of my out of control behavior and fights, school remained a safe-haven.
For what took place at home was much worse.
Throughout elementary school, I dealt with my family's addiction, abuse, and abandonment. I lived in poverty. I learned to parent my siblings.
By junior high, I was a full-time pseudo mom. I struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts, and overeating. I had night terrors.
By high school, my family and I lived in rundown hotels for almost two years. I was late for school because we stayed in hotels an hour away from where I attended. I was traumatized by the things I experienced there.
The school I went to freshman year found out we lived out of the boundaries and would not accept me back sophomore-year. Most schools would not take my brother since he was past 16 which was the legal age required to go to school, so my dad made both of us stay at home until we found a place. Due to this decision, when we did find a home, I was behind in credits. My brother got to go to regular school while I was sent to an alternative school to catch up on credits. Alternative school was filled with kids who fought, sold drugs, and attacked teachers. There I was in the midst of them, all because of homelessness. If I struggled with managing anger before, it sure didn't get better after this. Going to an alternative school meant learning for three hours behind a computer and coming home early. Being the only one in the house besides my youngest brother, I faced ridicule and attacks from my brothers' mom. These circumstances added to my anxiety.
At the beginning of my senior year, things went from bad to worse, as my parents were arrested and incarcerated. I went to school and faced threats due to the circumstances surrounding the incarceration. I couldn't focus on school-work. I began to lash out at my teachers. I had high anxiety the whole time.
But school was still a safe-haven.
No matter how bad I thought my teachers were, how unfair the rules were, how much my classmates teased me, school was much safer than my home life.
I finished high school at my fourth high school, Carbondale Community High School. This was five hours away from the Chicago area, and a radical difference from the schooling I was used to. After my parents were incarcerated, I put my energy into being a better person, studying hard, and making my teachers proud. Despite everything I had been through in school and life, I finished my last semester with a 4.0 GPA. I was no longer that student who lashed out and fought with classmates. I was a bright student with a bright future.
Along the way, I had a lot of really dope teachers. My sixth-grade science teacher Mr. Caufield made learning fun. My seventh-grade English teacher was a black woman who was stern but supportive of our dreams. She let us do rap battles we called, "Freestyle Friday" in her class. As a woman of color, I looked up to her and my eighth-grade Spanish teacher, who was also stern but loving. My freshman English teacher had the same personality type, high expectations but high encouragement. She provided a fun, interactive class. The only one I looked forward to at the time.
But my favorite teacher was my Junior year Geometry teacher, Ms. Ceh. She was a young, white woman, full of energy. The first day, she came into class and said, "You are all going to love this class." Whenever we took tests, she would announce the top three highest test scores. I was always in that range. I loved being recognized for doing something right because I was used to being told how wrong I was. Even when I would do well in school, I never heard, "Good job" or "I am proud of you" from home. I remember report card time was always stressful because there was always at least one sibling who didn't do as well. That put the attention on that sibling who did poorly, rather than those of us that did well. I remember my dad looking at my A's and B's and saying, "These B's should be A's.” That was the extent of my "encouragement." Because of those actions, I lacked motivation. I became perfectionistic in some areas but didn't try hard in others. But not in Ms. Ceh's class. There, I was a star. Ms. Ceh made me want to study computer science or engineering. Even though I didn't end up pursuing that career, her motivation and love left an imprint on my heart.
There are millions of kids just like me, suffering at home and acting out at school. They probably have complained and said they hated school. They may be the kids that no one likes, not even the teachers. But school may be the only place they find rest, motivation, food, and safety.
School can be a hard place for students, teachers, and staff. But it is a necessary safe-haven.