I have been MIA for quite some time. Life never goes quite the way we planned it. Instead of being an LTS Elementary Counselor in a different district, I've been a short-term substitute school counselor in a high school in Bethlehem Area School District. I will post about this at the end of my experience. It has been a pleasure to be at Liberty High School. On Thursday, June 7th, I attended graduation. Initially, I wasn't going to go to graduation. As a substitute, I wasn't required to be there. Most of my seniors barely knew me. I started subbing for one counselor on January 16 and came into this role on April 3. However, I came to know a few seniors pretty well when reviewing what they needed to graduate and trying to stay on top of them to make sure they completed it.
So here I am, it's late April or early May, and I see one of my kids is supposed to have signed up for an online class and must pass it to graduate. I call him down and make sure he's signed up for it since I'm not getting any updates on it. He says he's signed up. He's like "Miss, you have no idea how much I want to graduate." I shared my story with him... how I hated high school and used that to motivate me to finish so I could leave. I never went to my own graduation ceremony and I have no regrets. He shared his interest in becoming a real estate agent. I asked if he needed to go to college for this and he said he just needs to take a test, but he has to have a high school diploma.
After he left my office, I got set-up with email updates on his progress. Sometimes he would have issues with the online course and he'd come down to show me. I spoke to him about the lack of progress he was making and he assured me that he would complete the course in time, he was waiting until his classes were done at LHS. I was sweating bullets. Anytime I got a progress update I was dying. I spoke with him one time and I made a deal with him. I said if you pass this class, I will go to graduation and that I expect a hug at the end of this.
Needless to say there were all kinds of technology issues with the online course. I asked other counselors what I could do. In school counseling classes at Lehigh, we learned the term, In Loco Parentis-- in place of the parents. I don't have kids. My students are my kids and I will do anything for them. I often think to myself, what would I want someone to do for my kids. I will always do more than is required of me whenever I can. So one day, my student came in after I sent home summer school letters and called his mom. We called the online company together on speaker phone and tried to explain the situation. Then they had us call someone else, who in turn sent us back to the first people we spoke to. I put some of the responsibility on him to make a call when he got home, but I also followed-up with an email requesting an extension. We spent one Friday night emailing back and forth about the issues he was having submitting his essays for the online course, sending each other screen shots of what we both saw.
I put his name on the list for the graduation program even though we were still waiting to hear what would happen with this course because I believed he would complete what he needed in order to graduate. Two days before graduation, I was still arguing with the company in charge of the online course about his essays and updated grade. I was ranting to other counselors that he was going to graduate. I knew how hard he worked and I just wanted to see him graduate. I contacted the office and asked if they could hook me up with a cap and gown so I could attend the ceremony while we waited to hear back. Finally, we got his grade in and he was graduating. I was so excited to email him and tell him that. He promised to be at graduation practice. When he wasn't there, I went back to my office and reminded him where he needed to be.
The night of graduation was such a blur. When the graduates walked in and I saw him take his seat, I was excited to see that it was very close to me. We smiled at each other, knowing what it took to get him here. When the principal said during the ceremony that our school counselors have certified that these students have fulfilled all graduation requirements, I looked at him and smiled. As counselors, we're supposed to run up back stage in order to give our kids high fives, hand shakes, or hugs. I was so busy trying to find my kids that I didn't get to see this student walk across the stage or hear his name being called. But when I saw him standing there we smiled at each other and opened our arms for a hug. This student gave me the best hug I have received in my life. It was a tight, meaningful hug. I went to let go because there were more of my kids lining up behind him, but he didn't let go. I remember saying, I'm so proud of you, but I can't remember what else I said to him. If he held on much longer or I said all the things I wanted to say, I would have started to cry.
Seeing this student get to graduate and receiving this hug, was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. I graduated 10 years ago from high school, never attending my own ceremony. This was 100,000 times more rewarding than even my undergrad and grad school ceremonies. I had never felt more appreciated in my life. I realized that not even the people closest to me probably appreciate me as much as this kid did. Most people take me for granted, and worse, come to just expect that I will do things for them. That hug alone made all the stress leading up to graduation and attending the ceremony itself worth it for me.
I am not saying that no one else would have done this for this student. But I believe the reason I was offered this subbing position, was to be here for this student (and a few others) and to help him graduate. They say everything happens for a reason. I believe this was my reason. Mr. Bailey speaks of passion and purpose. My passion is school counseling and kids, my purpose is helping them. Everything came together for me to help this kid. I was in the right place at the right time. I went back to my office the next day and I printed his updated transcript, even though I didn't have to. I wrote a letter to go with it. In the letter, I let him know that "as counselors, our students touch our lives as much as we hope to touch theirs." I asked him to keep in touch with me so I know what he's up to and so he can sell me a house if he becomes a real estate agent. Even if I only knew him a short time, he's changed me and he really has touched my life.
What I have learned from this experience is that having a "whatever it takes" attitude allows you to establish very deep personal connections with your students. It makes our job as school counselors even more rewarding. I may never have kids of my own, but as I said to him, these kids will always be my kids. They can come back to me 10 years from now and ask for help and I will still help them, because I love all of my kids that much. I know what it's like to be on your own without support. I don't want any of my kids to ever feel that way. I've never been the type to do just enough to get by. I'll always go above and beyond what is required of me. I will do, whatever it takes to help my kids, even if I don't have to.