Every now and then, I hear people say that some of my students with emotional-behavioral disabilities "don't have a chance," because of the parents they live with or the circumstances they have found themselves in. Jason was such a student.
I knew him for a year; I got him as a freshman in my U.S. History class at another school district, years ago. He was dirty, very hyperactive, and very annoying; always out of his desk and talking incessantly. He wore ragged clothing, a jagged haircut, and a crooked smile. He was intelligent, but very few knew it, because he almost never did his work, and was constantly getting kicked out of classes. None of his peers respected him or considered him a friend, but Jason seemed most comfortable alienating them anyway.
I began calling Child Protective (CP) about Jason in the fall. The first time was to tell them that he was always hungry and was obviously not well-cared for at home; he always wore the same, filthy blue flannel shirt with jeans that he'd obviously had since before the last year's growth spurt and shoes that wouldn't even make it into a garage sale. He didn't have a coat. The report was not investigated. We bought Jason some clothes and a coat.
The next time I called, I repeated the previous info and I added that Jason's was extremely hyperactive and had been prescribed medication, but his parents inconsistently provided it. When he had his meds, he was a model student, focusing, participating, and attending to his work. Without it, he was a mess. He was failing most of his classes. It was heartbreaking to see how well he could do, but knowing he had didn't have the tools needed to achieve success. Following that call to CP, I received another letter from them, telling me that they had decided not to investigate.
So, I continued to do my job; teaching social studies to students with emotional-behavioral disabilities and trying my best to keep Jason in class. We had some good moments; he was a charmer, and I often got a glimpse of his potential, but more often than not, Jason was disconnected and sometimes very disrespectful. I called home a few times, but didn't get much help there; his mom just talked about how terrible he was at home, too, and how she didn't "know what to do with him" herself.
Jason continually disrupted class, and I tried hard to work with him, knowing it wasn't completely his fault, but often times, I still had to send him out of my room. In January, he began coming to school reeking of cat urine. (It was horrible; an hour after he left my social studies class, the whole room would still reek.) As you can imagine, this did nothing for his acceptance from peers; Jason had not a friend in the world. He had no explanation whatsoever about the smell. I called Child Protective again. Nothing was done.
An idealist, I found myself very discouraged about a system that didn't seem to care about Jason. I continued to struggle to help this troubled teen, who obviously had bigger issues to deal with than social studies, and I continued to call Child Protective to file reports. In April, I called again to tell them that Jason said he was not allowed to eat with his family; that his parents punished him by making him live by himself in an empty apartment on the second floor of their house; he said they locked him up there every day after school and only occasionally let him come down for dinner, where he was not allowed to sit at the table, but had to eat at the counter while his family ate at the table. Jason said his quarters had no food and that all he had to sleep on was a bare mattress. He also still reeked of cat urine. Not confident that anything would be done, but with still a little hope, I called CP again.
Two weeks later, I got word that someone was in the office to see me. I went downstairs to see a stranger there. She introduced herself as being a worker from Child Protective. We stepped into an office, and she said, "Barb, I just wanted to tell you that we went to Jason's house to investigate your last report. The conditions were some of the worst I've seen; he will definitely not be going back there." She did not give details, except to say that what Jason had told me was true; he was locked upstairs every night and forced to sleep on a bare mattress on the floor; a mattress soaked in cat urine and surrounded by cat feces. The refrigerator and cupboards were bare.
This boy, whose actions had screamed and screamed "Help me!" for months, had finally been heard by the people who had the power to save him.
I never saw Jason again. I'd heard he'd been placed in foster care in another county, and I was a little sad, but mostly really happy that someone had finally investigated this boy's home life. It confirmed for me that to call once is not enough; one has to be persistent. it's a lesson I haven't forgotten.
It's been seven years since I taught at that school and had Jason in class. Since then, I've poked around the Internet for him (as recently as a few weeks ago, in fact), but did not find him on Facebook or MySpace. I didn't want to meet him or anything; I just wanted to know if he was okay.
Today, following up on a report about a student, a Child Protective worker called. A moment into our conversation, she said, "Your name sounds familiar. Have you always worked in Tinytown?" I told her no, and at that moment, we realized that we had met that day, so long ago, regarding Jason. I told her that I have wondered about Jason many times over the years. She told me she had an update for me...
Jason entered foster care. He found a family, with which he remained until he turned eighteen.
He graduated from high school. [insert lump in the throat here]
He got his driver's license.
He volunteers for the local fire department, alongside his foster dad.
This single story makes all of my efforts for every "Jason" I have ever had worth it. Every kid has a chance.
Weeks ago, I looked Jason up in the on-line public court records and found that he still lives in the same county. Unfortunately, he has had several run-ins with the law....
over not wearing a seatbelt.
He never did like to stay in his seat.