Lawrence North High School Department Co-Chair and International Baccalaureate Counselor Connie Sivertson shares a story that reminds us that even some of the highest achieving, most resilient students may need our support in this most unusual time.
Article by Tim Horn, Making Your Child ‘School Proof’
Hey everyone, welcome to Encouraging Words for School Counselors! I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success. We started this podcast this fall to – well, as our name implies, to encourage all of you who get up every morning, drag yourself to school, and try to do your best despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges (especially this year) to help students succeed.
Nothing conveys that better than today’s story from Connie Sivertson. Connie works as a high school counselor in the school where I was a counselor for a number of years, and shares a story about advocating for students that harkens back to that tale of the starfish — do you know that one? Where the boy is on the beach throwing starfish back out into the water to save their lives and an older gentleman comes by and says, in such a knowing way, “You know, you can’t save them all,” and the boy says, “You’re right – but I can save this one,” as he tosses another starfish into the ocean.
Several days after Connie’s school shut down for Covid last March, the counselors at Lawrence North High School decided to create and send a check-in survey to all of their students to see how everyone was doing, and Connie says what they got back was startling.
When I got back my results, it was like a punch in the gut. It took my breath away. What really just blew me out of the water — it wasn’t the kids I thought it was going to be. We have all focused on our vulnerable population and what was just alarming was the number of what you would consider, kind of, middle class, school-proof kids that go about their business. They’re in sports during, you know, they’re president of the Key Club, they’re running this for the Tri-Hi-Y they’re, those kids that are involved everywhere. And it really was an aha to see the number of kids that relied on school as their place, as their identity. I do school very well. I get accolades for what I do. I feel rewarded for the kind of work I do in the scores I get in the insights I have in the discussions I contribute to. And all of that was taken away from them in very short order.
There is one particular student of Connie’s where this description fits like a “t” – he was “school proof” according to Connie – or at least that’s what she thought.
He is this just awesome little intellectual brainiac. He loves computers. And he is just the most enjoyable, funny, funky. He is creative and, and kind, tuned in, is one of those kids that picks up on all of the littlest details and remembers stuff that you’re like, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe you remember that.” He’s that kid, he’s just super tuned in to everything. About the beginning of May, he sent me an email that was one of those that came overnight and it is so dark and so heavy and scary.
Connie reached out to the student. No answer. She reached out to the student’s parents, but they don’t speak English, so she hunted for an interpreter, harder to find now because of COVID. It took some time, she reached out again, and waited.
It took us probably, I think, two days, as I recall, to get through to anybody. Nobody answered the phone, which made my anxiety go through the roof. Finally got a hold of them. And he hadn’t really said a whole lot to them. There was a little bit of a cultural concern about mental health that came out. Mom said, you know, nobody in my world deals with this and if you do, you keep it quiet. You don’t say anything. And, um, so we had several areas of concern that we needed to get him into mental health support. So fast forward a couple of weeks, getting him connected up, to really over the last month: his grades are horrible. And this is a kid who was straight A’s. I think everything is in the D/F range right now. We have had multiple conversations with teachers where I literally shared his transcript and said, “I know he’s brand new to you. You guys didn’t know him previous to the start of this school year. I need you to get a snapshot of who this kid really is.” And that was eye opening. And it somehow opened a different channel for a lot of teachers to be — not that they wouldn’t have, but they didn’t know. You know, how do you, how do you discriminate between a student who is just apathetic and not interested, and, you know, “Hey, and I’m going to kind of skate with this and they are probably going to give us the grades like they did last spring. You know, let’s call it good. I can get some extra hours.” And the kid who’s saying, “I am in a dark place, I’m struggling. I can barely get out of bed every morning. I’m contemplating ending my life.” How, how do you differentiate between those when you don’t have a lot of information?
So, we are now at a point where he has decided he is going to stay in school. He has been engaged in intensive mental health support. He’s got a therapist that he sees at least once a week. He started a medication regime and he is feeling better. He was in my office on Monday of this week and he had a smile on his face, you know, like physically appeared to be trying to engage in the world. Just completely, like, the turn around. You can see it. And I want to do everything I can to embrace that and encourage that and nurture that, because he’s coming back. And he will say, this whole thing has thrown me for such a loop. I would have never guessed I would be the person who would feel so isolated, so abandoned, you know? So without purpose.
And this is the core of the message, to remember to keep an eye on those who appear to be school proof or bulletproof, because – of course – sometimes they aren’t.
You know, just the hope I feel that, okay: Here’s one. I think about that starfish story. You know, I may not be able to save them all, but I’m going to keep throwing them back in the water. And that’s kind of that sense I have. And I think it’s so important to stop and pause because there are so many that need help, but it’s overwhelming to me. So I need to stop when you have something that’s going right and say, “ Okay, here’s an example of somebody who is definitely coming. He’s on the right path and hopefully will be restored to the life he wants to live.”
Even if you don’t see the results Connie was able to see, I hope you’ll persist, keep moving forward as we all do, because you have to believe that what you do makes a difference even if it’s not evident right away.
Thanks, Connie, for your story, and thank YOU for listening. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app and give us a review. And remember to give me a shout so we can record your story at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay strong, believe in the good work you do, and have a great week.