Wednesday, March 28, 2012



I knew this time it was going to be different.  I knew I could make a difference in this one's life.  I knew I could be the person who actually believed in him and made a positive change for his future.

Julian* was a freshman, and a gang member.  Or at least he was on his way to being a gang member.  He was a wannabe, which I understand can be more dangerous because he'd be looking for ways to prove himself; this was according the officer who came to give the obligatory "how to recognize gang affiliations" chat at our staff meeting.  If the single-focus of color Julian wore daily wouldn't have been enough of a clue, the stuff he was drawing on my desks were a clear message about where he felt like he belonged.

At first I brushed him off as a rude, lazy kid.  He was late all the time, never did any homework, and had smart answers to all of my questions.  But I realized I could joke back with him, and that he was clever.  Humor is as sure an indicator to me of intelligence as anything.  He started to listen more in class and I was sure if I just encouraged him, he was going to turn his life around.  Maybe he just didn't have the support at home, and maybe I could give that to him at school.

I sat him down one day after class and made it clear that I thought he could be doing much better in my class than he was.  I asked about what kind of help he had at home. His answer: none.  He didn't even have any supervision.  He was a thirteen year old boy, alone. I gave him extra time on his assignments.  I offered to take his work late. He was always tired--he said this was because he would stay up all night watching TV because there was nobody to tell him to go to bed.  I told him to focus, to get his homework done in class when I was there to help.  For a while, he turned things in on time and it seemed our talks had meant something. His grade was eventually a mid-range C and I thought we could start to tackle his other classes.

I checked his other grades and saw that not only was he failing English, he had F's below 15% in every other class.  I emailed his other teachers asking if there was any way they'd give him time to make anything up.  I told them I was going to meet with him daily to do his make up work.  I made my room available to him at lunch.  I told him I'd help him as much as I could with his other subjects.

He never showed up at lunch for help.  Not once.  I'd see him in class every day after lunch and every day he'd have an excuse about why he didn't make it.

I had to make up a test.  Yeah right.
I didn't feel good.  Mmmhmmm.
I was in lunch detention.  Okay, that one I believed.

Every day I told him I'd see him the next day so I could help him.  I kept tabs on his grades.  I figured out which assignments he'd need to make up in order to pass.  I thought if I could just convince Julian's other teachers that he was capable, this would all work out.  If he could just pull it together in their classes, he might be able to get on track to graduation.

I remember talking to E at this point and being so frustrated with his lack of response.  "You can't care more about his education than he does, Heather.  You're doing more work than him," he said.  He was right and it stung.

Soon after, Julian stopped coming to school regularly.  He would just disappear for two weeks.  He came back like it was nothing, then he'd be gone again.  His grades were bad before.  Now they were abysmal.  He was a freshman and he was already on his way to not graduating.  I'd see him around town, but hardly ever in class.

When he did finally show, he was full of promises.  He said he needed to stay after and talk to me about his grades.  He said he had a new reason to pass, a new reason to make sure he graduated high school. He said his girlfriend was pregnant.  It took everything I had not to throw my hands up in the air while I talked to him.  But I listened.  I told him he could do it.  He promised he would.  He said this time, he knew it mattered.  I knew it mattered more than he could probably imagine.  I knew that this time, he had to succeed.

I never saw him again.

Today is the last day I'm writing in response to a prompt from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

Today's prompt: Talk about a time when you intervened. What prompted you? Did you regret it?


*For obvious reasons, I've changed the identity of the student.


  1. I've loved your Scintilla responses. I get all excited every time I see a new post roll around on the reader. Your blog, as always, is one of my favs. :)

    1. Thank you so much, Tracy! Your blog is one of mine, as well!

  2. What a heart wrenching well written, but it breaks my heart!