My job as an Elementary School counselor is interesting. One moment I’m teaching about manners and kind words, and the next I am listening to a child mourn the death of a grandparent. At any given moment, we may be hit with the disclosure of sexual abuse, physical abuse, death, bullying, loss of a parent, moves, or out-of-control anger. It can be heavy. Then, there are days like yesterday when a child leaves and I actually feel uplifted by them. That’s what I’m thankful for yesterday, my sermon by a fifth grade boy whom I’ve known for three years now.
Vincent has been coming to me since he moved to our school. His parents are divorced and his father lives in a different state. However, he’s still a big part of his life, or at least a big influence, which is more than I can say for a lot of kids at our school. He lives with his older sister and younger brother. His teenage brother recently got in a fight and was sent to live with dad in Georgia. Vincent does a lot of caregiving for the younger sibling and showed me recently where he burned himself cooking him and his brother a dinner of hotdogs while mom went to the movies and ‘the club’ for her birthday. It’s not unusual for the children to be home without her. It’s not at all unusual for kids at these subsidized apartments to also run around outside unsupervised and walk to the Dollar Tree. I’ve heard countless stories about fights, bullying, and stealing that could have been avoided had an adult just been present.
So, he’s been coming to me about once a week for several years now. First, it was for counseling, dealing with the divorce, making friends, and adjusting to our school. Now, I think he comes to me just to have someone listen to him but not to counsel him. Vincent is different than most of the other fifth graders at this inner-city school. He doesn’t care about girls. He doesn’t want or need a lot of friends. In fact, he tells me that he doesn’t have “time to mess with that” because he needs to keep himself on track.He doesn’t care about being “cool”, and he’s told me this over and over. He told me yesterday that back-in-the-day, like when I was growing up, it was cool to make good grades, walk proud and have new shoes. Now, being “cool” is getting in trouble, or at least at this school as he sees it. He tells me he doesn’t want to be “cool”, and yes he puts this word in quotes when he adamantly explains!
Enthusiastically, he teaches me that, “you know, being a black boy is different than being a white kid…We like to joke around. I might say, I want to kill you and just be messin’ around…Now, I know you can’t act like that at school. I don’t act the same at home, though”, he chuckles. (Sounds like my white son, and I actually tell him that it’s an important skill to know when, where, and what is appropriate to say and do in different settings. It takes a lot of self-control!) He has always been so honest with me, whether it’s confessing that he stole candy from the Dollar Tree in 3rd grade, he broke into the apartment pool with a peer because of peer pressure, or he’s so sad and wants to go live with his dad. I respect that about him and I believe it’s enabled him to grow so much as a person.
So, yesterday, Kid President as I called him, explained that you can’t go around getting in trouble and not caring what adults say or “YOUR BUTT IS GOING TO END UP IN PRISON!”. He proceeded to preach as he paced around the room that what you do now does matter because it’s your habits and you’ll grow up to do the same things. Amen! (I think he’s going to be taking over teaching the Character classes soon!)
This child is not a straight-A student. He struggles academically in school. He’s in intervention groups. But, he works hard, really hard just to make it. He cares, and he thinks about his future. I even gave him a little wishing stone with the word “wise” on it. He was carrying it around at recess later that day. And, just this week, his teacher could choose one, new student to join the Safety Patrol. They may even get to go to Washington D.C. for the first time ever this year because these awesome teachers have found a group to sponsor them financially. The teacher approached me for feedback and to tell me that Vincent is the one student who she’s nominating from her class.
**The student’s name, Vincent, has been changed to protect his identity.