Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Nobody ever comes here"

The school is a two-hour drive from me. But it took me a lot further than that.

On 10/30/17, I spoke four times at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg, VA: one talk each for grades 6-8 and an evening talk for any kids who wanted to bring their parents. Beforehand, I knew almost nothing about its student population.

The school is in a rural community. The building looks like many other middle schools I've been to—spacious, clean, bright. The warm staff told me that some of the kids—particularly some boys—would rather be on the farm or in the woods than in school. (If school isn't their first choice, I am heartened that their second is the great outdoors rather than video games.)

But the kids listened. They engaged. They thanked me. Sometimes we don't know what we like till exposure is forced on us.

In between sessions, I heard heartbreaking stories from the staff.

Some kids live in homes with dirt floors and no running water. For warmth, the homes have wood stoves or kerosene heaters, which coat hair and clothes with a noxious smell.

Some take a bus for more than an hour to get to school.

Some come to school exhausted because they had to sleep on the family room sofa for lack of a bed. One student has come to school after not sleeping at all. His parents did not notice/care that he was on the computer all night.

Some just don't come to school. Parents are, of course, supposed to notify a school of a child's absence, but in this case, often don't. Sometimes the kids do, saying "Sorry, I know my parents didn't do it."

Amid these hardships, there is light. I was told in confidence—and then permitted to share—that on holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas, the administration and staff buy food with their own money and personally deliver it to needy families in their community. They do this without alerting any press or calling any attention to it during school hours.

I asked if this creates any feelings of inequity—some kids get these surprises, others don't. I was told that the adults do not hear the students discussing it in school. The kids may be embarrassed. Or they simply may not have the words.

But you can be embarrassed and grateful at the same time, and I suspect gratitude is the much stronger reaction.

I was grateful myself to discover more kind, selfless people in the world.

After one of my assemblies, a student asked "Why did you come here?" I asked him what he meant. He said "Nobody ever comes here."

His clarification answered his question.

Enormous thanks to Melissa Harrell and principal Todd Lynn, along with the rest of the staff, for going through the effort to invite me. You are shining examples of educators, adults, and human beings. I was honored to meet you.

11/23/17 addendum: what happened next.

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