The other day I was helping a student prepare for our Thanksgiving service, when we started talking about what he was grateful for in his life. “I’m grateful I’m accepted for who I am here,” he said with a shrug. While he did not know it, his statement stayed with me all day. I am so grateful to work in a community of students who are inclusive and kind to one another, and I probably don’t tell them that enough. Our conversation reminded me of the importance of practicing gratitude in our daily lives, not just when the holiday rolls around.
At graduation, our long-time History teacher, Gus Buchanan, has a sweet tradition of reading from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. The line that usually gets us all to tear up a little, comes at the end of the first chapter, “And it’s still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” We hope that as our graduates leave, they keep that lesson in their heart, to look out for one another, and stay connected. Of course we also hope they have learned some tangible life skills to take with them when they move on.
I had a plan going into our weekly School-wide Reflections meeting before April vacation, but as often happens when working with teens, my plans changed. Looking at their faces, tense bodies, and the general lack of attendance, I wondered what was going on. So, I asked. My students, as usual, surprised me with the depth and breadth of their answers.
Earlier this year, I read an NPR interview with Susan Cain, author of Quiet, and most recently of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. In it, Cain reveals a nationwide growth in understanding that sometimes quiet students are just as engaged, talented, and successful in school as their extroverted peers. Cain points out that as a culture we’ve tended to value the extroverted person for their willingness to contribute, their confidence, their assertiveness. In school, we often encourage extroverted behavior by grading students on class discussion and presentations. But this approach may have missed something important: introverted students need to be valued for who they are, and then led slowly, rather than pushed, out of their comfort zone.
This time of year, many of our students and families are planning for the summer. As the weather warms up, our students are already anticipating sunny summer days with fewer responsibilities and the possibility of sleeping in. While having time to relax and to take a break from the rigors of the school year is important, we also know that having some kind of structure in place during the summer helps keep our students on track to be successful in the following school year.
In my work with high school students, the “pronoun question” comes up regularly. For some students, it is something they have never thought about before - some might even not remember what a pronoun is! For others, the pronoun you use when talking with them is something that matters deeply to them and signals either acceptance of their identity or rejection. Some students may still be struggling with their gender identity and not be certain how they want to be defined, and yet others may not fit neatly into the gender binary of the English language.
There are so many skills we work to teach our children, and among them is how to become a good self-advocate. As the nurse at Rock Point School, one of my jobs is to help students learn how to utilize the health care system and to become effective consumers. As children get older and become teenagers, it is important for them to begin to take ownership over their health and wellness.
In October, we hosted a discussion with local therapist and adoption specialist Benjamin Houchen on Adoption and Adolescents. We invited families in our community to join us to share insight and ask questions about how best to support teens who were adopted. While each family is unique, Houchen addressed the themes that emerge during adolescence and the particular significance they have for children who have been adopted.