I remember the first time I saw her…walking down the school corridor like she owned the place. She did. She was known as the “Godmother,” and she was swag city. When I saw her sitting in my second period class, I immediately knew that she and I were going to develop a very special teacher-student relationship. She didn’t know that yet, as she sized me up as one of the new teachers at her school; but I did.
I’m lucky and skilled in something that has always given me a tiny advantage as a teacher; I learn my student’s name very quickly. By the end of my second period class, I knew her name was Jane**, she was a senior and had been at the school I had just started teaching at for two years. For some reason, I felt this girl was going to need more than the usual to graduate. I went up to her and stood in front of her as she looked up at me with that side eye kind of look and I asked her…”are you going to graduate, Jane?” It felt sort of odd for me to feel compelled to ask a student that on the very first day of school. Usually “I’m Miss Positive, all will be well, all will work out, you can do it,” as a teacher; but as I looked at Jane, it was what I felt I needed to say. She looked at me almost offended, and responded “Yes, Ms. R, I will.” I said, “Ok. good. That’s all I wanted to know.” It was that moment I decided to make that decision with her.
As months passed and school progressed, Jane would attend school inconsistently. Some days she’d show up all decked out, walking around like the “Godmother” smiles, and attitude for days and other times, it was evident it took all her will to make it to class. She’d show up late, or even later, if I decided to call and wake her up and remind her that school was in session and that she needed to graduate. Often she’d want to lay down on the window ledge or even the floor while doing her work because she was so tired. She was tired from working a full-time job, being a student, a teenager and, dealing with life like so many do.
There was something else Jane was emotionally tired from. I found this out after I read an assignment given to her in her online English class. It asked to write about a life changing moment, and Jane wrote about how her sister died at the age of 13 from a tumor on her neck that went untreated because her mom and the rest of the family didn’t know it was malignant and they were busy working and surviving their day to day existence. She explained to me that her sister had a small bump on her neck and how it was dismissed as a pimple by her family. By the time she got to a doctor, it was too late and she died months later. Jane was nine years old at the time.
Jane struggled all year with her classes and ended up finagling herself into becoming my student all day long in my independent studies class. It was then that things became intense, and making sure that she completed her case load of classes in order to graduate was the only option. There were moments when I would call her mom wondering where she was and was told she was still sleeping, others when she would show up after lunch saying she had too much fun the night before and needed to rest. Regardless of her crazy circumstances, Jane was working on her classes.
Until she wasn’t.
That’s when we, the counselor, another beloved teacher of her’s, and I became super worried and frustrated. She was almost there, like seven days from graduation there, and she disappeared. The whole year felt like blood, sweat, and tears from us to keep this girl going, and then seven days before graduation she was nowhere to be found. It was grueling. The counselor and I had come up with a plan for her to be able to finish the last of her classes on time, and by on time, I begged for a few extra days just for her. I spent hours figuring out how best to make classes rigorous but doable, and then she disappeared. I’ll admit that the counselor and I had a moment where we came together and realized we couldn’t help her if she wasn’t going to help herself. It was a devastating moment.
However, the Monday before graduation Jane saunters into my class. I almost cried when I saw her, both from relief and frustration, my frustration wanted to scold her, teach her a lesson, tell her it was too late, but of course, I didn’t. I knew in my heart of hearts that if this girl didn’t graduate from high school now, her life would become exponentially harder, so I hugged her, told her she was giving me even more gray hair and asked her if she was serious about getting this done. She knew there was nothing more her beloved teachers and counselor could do for her except tell her that if she dedicated the next 48 hours, almost literally, to her classes she would graduated.
I remember receiving a text from the counselor after school two days before graduation. It was Jane in her cap and gown…I cried. I wondered if I would feel the same emotions the day I see my own son in his cap and gown. Probably not. I’ll be excited and proud, but he’s blessed with the expectation of graduating high school, however for Jane there wasn’t anything ever to expect except ending up at a continuation school for the last three years. For me, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. The tears continued on graduation day along with the thank you’s from both Jane and her family. Let me add, in all Godmother-like fashion, you know my girl showed up in some fierce Christian Louboutins and her cap and gown. When I asked her about her shoes, she looked at me with her sassy yet adorable attitude and said, “What, Ms. R? Don’t you think with as hard as I’ve worked for this day I don’t deserve these shoes…?” I replied, “You know you do.”
Jane will forever have a special place in my heart. On the first day of school the year after she graduated, she surprised each of us, her counselor, the other beloved teacher and me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a note which read, “Thanks for believing in me and not letting me give up.” It made my day and made me realize that Jane was in a good place; and that is precisely what I wanted for her after graduation, to be in a good place.
**The name of the student in this story has been changed to protect her identity.
Melissa was has taught at every level: elementary, middle school and high school. She’s taught history and science. She also taught AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, a class that builds the confidence and readiness of middle of the road students in preparing for college or university. Her passion for education and the success of all children took to a new level with the job given to her as the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Coordinator for one of the largest comprehensive high schools in Long Beach Unified. She directly serviced a cohort of over 1200 students while exponentially affecting the larger school population. As the lead of dedicated group of educators, including administrators, counselors, teachers and staff, they built a college going culture at Cabrillo High School through parent education, strengthening self-esteem, exposure to higher education, a bigger world through mentors, college visits, guidance and academic support. It was a very proud moment for all when it was told that her GEAR Up cohort had the highest number of 4 year university acceptances in the history of the school.
As a life coach she excitedly enhances the joy and satisfaction of her clients lives with compassion, empathy and wisdom. The happier and more satisfied a person is in their own life the better a world will effortlessly be created for all to enjoy.
She looks forward to embarking on her son’s own educational journey while inspiring and educating followers on “LA Comadre.”