Lost or Found

He was heading down the hall that could only lead to the In-School Suspension room. On the second day of school. I hadn’t seen him since he left fifth grade on the last day of school in 2010. Ron should be a sophomore now, but was sent to the alternative high school last year for ninth grade. Now he’s at my high school as a freshman for the second time.

Ron should have been in P.E. but I ran into him in that hallway and I knew nothing good was happening.

He was heading down the hall that could only lead to the In-School Suspension room. On the second day of school. I hadn’t seen him since he left fifth grade on the last day of school in 2010. Kids leave our school building when they move on to sixth grade, only to return on Parent Nights if they have younger siblings.Corona del Sol High School by Kevin Dooley

Ron (*pseudonym) rarely came back to visit his elementary teachers and two years after he “stepped up” to middle school, I left our school community to work in another district. He should be a sophomore now, but was sent to the alternative high school last year for ninth grade. Now that I’ve returned to my home base district, he’s at my high school as a freshman for the second time.

Most of my memories of Ron parallel Pigpen from Peanuts. Not in a dirty, dusty cloud way, but in a disheveled mess of disorganization. His executive function skills were severely lacking. Papers were crammed in his desk. Homework, weeks overdue, was stuffed in his chaotic binder. He never wrote his assignments in his daily planner, even when we put him on behavior interventions. These challenges plagued both of us because I looped with him from fourth to fifth grade. Still, I can clearly recall his smile. So wide and genuine, it dared me to stay frustrated with him. I couldn’t do it.

He wasn’t a bad kid; just a bit lost.

Ron should have been in P.E. but I ran into him in that hallway and I knew nothing good was happening.

“Already?” I pressed on, “What for?”

He told me that he didn’t dress out for P.E.

“Why not?”

“I didn’t want anyone to see this,” he said as he raised a pant leg to reveal an ankle tracker, like the one Lindsay Lohan has made into a fashion accessory. Ron would rather be ostracized by his teacher than by his peers.

A feeling of protectiveness swelled inside me.

It was unacceptable to set him up for failure intentionally this early into a second chance at ninth grade. I suggested he try to take the class after his monitor is removed and told him the steps. Ron continued the walk to ISS and I set out out to put things in motion without his knowledge. I tracked him down within the hour, after speaking with his counselor who agreed to meet with him and change his schedule. Ron’s not familiar with the building yet. To ensure he found his way to her office, I started to get him. From down the hall, I saw him heading down the wrong wing of the school building. Lost again.

“Where ya going?”

The counselor had called him to her office.  As if I didn’t know.

“I thought you might not know where it is yet, so I thought I’d walk with you.”

That’s when he told me his version of why he was being monitored. It involved driving a car he apparently didn’t have permission to borrow, evading police while having drugs and friends with him. In retrospect, I am surprised by how much he shared. He has acted like he doesn’t remember me or how to smile. His movements are cautious, like a feral cat that wants to eat but doesn’t trust enough to take the risk.

“How much longer with that thing? Maybe it can come off before next semester when you can take P.E. again.”

It was supposed to come off already, but he failed his drug test.

“For weed.”

Later, I was told that it was something else, harder than pot. The details are insignificant. It doesn’t even matter that he (probably) only told me half-truths. It bothers me that he was sent to isolation during the first week of school for trying to save face. It also bothers me that he was in trouble with the law in the first place. I have been wondering ever since, what happened during those years when I lost track of him?

Google Street View - Pan-American Trek - Fireworks shack by Kevin Dooley

His fifth grade teacher and I would end a year and make predictions about what happens to our kids when we let them go. So-and-so would probably let a boy get her pregnant. You-know-who might end up as an errand boy for a gang. I can’t remember thinking anything bad would happen to Ron. He just wasn’t that kid.

We used to say that we did the best we could while we had them and whatever happened next was out of our hands. Was that a cop-out?

Seeing Ron now, I feel guilt. Did we not do a good enough job passing information up the food chain about him and his needs? How did we never see this coming and intervene before it got to this point? How did we lose him during those middle years? How does he find a different path?

If Ishmael Beah can turn from being a boy soldier to a novelist and UNICEF activist, there’s hope for anyone. Beah was twelve when war came to his village in Sierra Leone. These are critical years in a person’s life. Maybe there’s time for Ron to get his $&#! together.

inspiring Ishmael Beah interview from NPR’s Morning Edition entitled “A Fomer Child Soldier Imagines ‘Tomorrow’ in Sierra Leone”. 

I’ve been busy for a few days, holed up with the technicians as we prepare 780 laptops for our students. I had not seen Ron all week. Today, I wanted to go out of my way to find him. While I was talking to teachers outside the Technology office, I saw him out of the corner of my eye.

“Hey, Ron. How’s it going?” He looked over his shoulder at me, pausing his conversation with a young lady but not stopping his stride.

“Good.”

I passed him in the hall again later. “Hey, you’re in Guitar now instead of P.E?”

“Yeah.”

“How’s that going?”

“Good.”

“Can you play?”

“No.”

“But you’re learning.”

“Yeah.”

How have you been able to help a student who may need a hand finding his/her way back? How have you been able to prevent losing a child in the first place?


Images from Flickr licensed under Creative Commons
Corona del Sol High School by Kevin Dooley licensed by CC Attribution Generic 2.0.  No changes were made. 

Google Street View – Pan-American Trek – Fireworks shack by Kevin Dooley  licensed by CC Attibution Generic 2.0. No changes were made.

012514 ala midwinter by ALA the American Library Association licensed by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).  No changes were made. 

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