Sunday, March 31, 2013

In Memory of Ol' Sol

         Her name was Solveig (pronounced: Soul' vig) Farseth. She was very much one of those intrepid Minnesota "Scandahoovians". I'm really not sure if she was Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish...there were plenty of all three in Minneapolis; but I know she was old. She was a lead social worker at Emerson, the special school where I worked. Both of the other social workers were somewhere in their 30s and 40s....but Solveig was ancient compared to them. Ancient, as in stoop-shouldered, skinny legs, old-fashioned dresses, and holding onto the stair rail on the way down the stairs. She said she had never smoked, and I certainly believed her, because she never drank the hard stuff, either, when we had staff parties. Knowing that, I always marveled at how many wrinkles she had....she seemed to have too many for a woman who had obviously engaged in the art of  "good, clean living". In hindsight, I suppose Solveig's fair Scandahoovian skin was responsible; it was just too delicate for that blazing hot Minnesota week of summer every year..
       In Solveig's favor, she had arresting, sparkling blue eyes. Her hair was a pale shade of gray, with natural streaks of pure white. I wish my own hair was going gray in that beautiful way. Solvieg's smile was radiant. She was the first indefatiguably cheerful and perennially positive person I ever met. Solvieg (Sol, as we called her), was a veritable whirlwind of social work at its finest.
       I taught with many fine teachers up there at Emerson School. Most were young like I was, being closer to twenty-five than thirty-five. We partied at Sunny's pub, twice a month after school, on Friday payday. We told our intellectually disabled kids we were going out for "milk and cookies". Sol never came with us, but she always peeked into our classrooms at the end of those days and told us to have fun and drive safely. She basically functioned as our faculty "mom", in addition to her primary role as a strong advocate for our students and their families. Sol was a persistent detective at ferreting out resources to meet any need that the children or their parents had. I used to tease her about how it seemed she never went home, asking her where the Murphy bed was hidden in her office wall.
        Anyway, what has prompted me to write about Solveig this week, instead of a student, was a Google search I did. Just out of curiosity, I typed in a few Emerson staff names. Up popped a link to Solveig Farseth. It was from the Minneapolis School employees "recently deceased" list. Coincidentally, and sadly, she passed away exactly one year ago today, March 31, 2012, at the age of ninety-seven. My mind started spinning the numbers....that meant that she was sixty-four years old when I left Emerson to be a stay-at-home mom, after the birth of our son Van. We moved to Iowa shortly after that. Whoa...the last time I saw Solveig, she was exactly the same age as I am now. Wait! I was so young then, and as I might have mentioned earlier, she appeared to be so ancient! 
      I started thinking, 'Is this how my twenty and thirty-something peers at school view me now?' Could I appear to be ancient to them? Sure, I forget some stuff now and then, but I make more fun of myself than any of them do about that. I've had three joints replaced, so I don't need to use the stair railing. My hair isn't gray (Thanks, Faith @ Hair To Stay in Johnston). My clothes are pretty standard-issue 'teacher style'. Holiday socks for Christmas and Halloween, comfortable but fashionable shoes, the obligatory sweaters from Von Maur...I confess to owning them all. I don't think they're dowdy.
       I feel respected and completely valued by my co-workers, as I felt towards Sol. Never once did I give her any hint that she appeard elderly to me and never spoke about it to anyone else. I did not make fun of her age, doubt her dedication and skill in her field, or mention to her that it might be time to retire. I wasn't raised like that. I was instructed to respect my elders and I did. Yikes, now I am almost an elder myself!
        No, I'm NOT!  Solveig wasn't old either! After all, my sister Sharon was teaching at Iowa State University in her seventies. I work in Des Moines with a seventy-eight year old teacher. At church, there is an extraordinary woman, also in her seventies, Jane, who  is also actively teaching. All three of them have amazing energy levels and love teaching. I know that I will not be teaching when I am in my seventies, but I salute those who do.
         I especially salute Solveig, who worked with the same challenging students I have been writing about in this blog, but she was more than twice my age at the time. Any kid can drain a teacher, but special kids are particularly good at it. She may have been ancient, but I don't remember ever seeing her look tired. Solveig always looked like she had just finished a great nap, with her bright blue eyes and engaging smile. Any looming crisis or pressing need brought to her attention was immediately transformed into an opportunity to be creative and compassionate.
         You have been gone a year now, and surely earned your rest, dear ol' Sol. I'm trying to remember how you operated when you were my age. My steps might be more spry and my wardrobe may be a little bit less dowdy, but as I strive daily to match your charm and effectiveness, I fall short. I can't promise anything, Sol, but I will truly give each day a good ol' Scandahoovian try. Thank you for your shining example.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Salad Meltdown Lesson

        This is exactly what Kathy looked like. She was an extremely angry, explosive little girl. She was sixteen, and tiny; just 4'9" tall. She was perfectly proportioned, very curvaceous, and she really, really, really liked attention from boys. She had classic Minnesota Norwegian coloring: blonde hair, blue eyes, and creamy white skin. Kathy was quite pretty, intellectually challenged, and mentally ill. We struggled daily with her wardrobe, which was always sexually provocative, and with her makeup, which was always more appropriate for clubbing than for school. She had a sweet little bell-like voice and could be delightfully charming. When she became angry, the screams that came out of her mouth could shatter wine glasses. Her second language was profanity.
        My classroom had been moved from Emerson, the special school where I taught, to a regular Minneapolis high school. My students were the highest functioning in the special program, so we were selected to "transition" for the purpose of normalizing their social skills. None of them had academic skills high enough to include in the regular classes, but we were to be in the hallways, the lunchroom, and the physical education classes with the other students. Hindsight has told me it was a huge miscalculation to include Kathy in this project.
        The first indication that Kathy was going to have difficulty came at the end of the initial week of our inclusion in the school.. I was called to the counselors' office on Friday afternoon. Miss Elliot, the lead counselor, informed me there were several accounts from young men who had their rear-ends pinched in the hallways near our classroom. The reports were all similar: the boys felt a pinch as they were walking, and when they turned around, they saw a short blonde girl running away. Guess who?
        I was not surprised, but I pretended to be. I had talked, explained, role-played, and "laid down the law" with Kathy for weeks before we left the security of Emerson. She knew better, but she simply could not help herself when it came to touching the boys. There had been one or two pinching incidents in my room before, but she was not very earnest about going after the boys in my class. Most of them looked handicapped, and she was not at all interested in them as boyfriend material. She had created her fantasy sweetheart from photos in the magazine Seventeen. Being in this regular school, full of normal red-blooded boys, football players, basketball players, and wrestlers, was a male smorgasbord for Kathy.
        The counselor and I spoke with Kathy the following Monday morning. No more hallway pinching. Her reward would be that she could continue to be in the hall during passing time. Her negative consequence, if the incidents continued, was loss of hallway time. She agreed. Monday, there were no incidents; Tuesday, there were no incidents. Wednesday afternoon, I was summoned to see Miss Elliot again. There had been four more reports of fanny-pinching....this time in the lunchroom.
      I promised the counselor I would talk with Kathy again, and she would not be eating in the lunchroom or using the hallways during passing times until we had the pinching under control. This was a relatively new behavior for Kathy, so I had no idea how long that would be. Kathy was basically "grounded" to our room. She was not happy.
      "I need to see the boys! I need to see the boys!", she whined and argued. "I promise I won't do it any more!", she added, stomping her feet several times, like she was putting out a fire, and adding a string of expletives.
      I explained that she and I would eat lunch together in our room on Thursday and Friday. Then we would talk about her going to the lunchroom, under supervision, the next Monday. Rumors about "a crazy little blonde chick" were flying around the school. We needed to lower our profile for a few days.
      Kathy wanted a salad for lunch and she wanted Ranch dressing. My classroom associate went to the lunchroom to get the salad, brought it back to the room, and set it on my desk while Kathy and I were in the restroom washing our hands. We came back to the room. My associate had gone to take her lunch break, and I placed Kathy's salad on her desk. All hell broke loose.
     The associate had mistakenly gotten French dressing. Ranch/ was easy to see  how there could be a misunderstanding, especially with the way Kathy had been whining about having to eat in the room.
     The high-pitched screeching started. "I neeeeeeeeed Raaaannnnccchh! I don't want no fu#%*g French!  I neeeeeeeeed Raaaannnnccchh!" I tried to calm her. I put my arm around her, but she started crying.             
      "Kathy, Dorothy thought you said French. I'm sorry. You are going to have to either eat salad with French, or eat the salad without dressing."  There was no way I could take her to the lunchroom, in the condition she was in, and I couldn't go get Ranch dressing and leave her in the room alone. Pre-cell phone days.
        There was absolutely no consoling her. Her voice went higher and higher.

       "I neeeeeeeeed Raaaannnnccchh! I don't want no fu#%*g French!  I neeeeeeeeed Raaaannnnccchh!"

        She got louder and louder. She threw herself on the floor. I moved the desks out of the way when she started rolling around and kicking her feet and pounding her clenched little fists on the wooden floor. She was shrieking, crying pitifully, cussing, screaming for Ranch dressing, and was totally out of control. Tears were streaming down her bright red face. I could see no way of stopping this. That tiny girl was making an enormous ruckus about Ranch dressing.
       A few teachers peeked in the door, but I waved them out again. No one needed to see her like this. My classroom associate, Dorothy, heard what was going on in our classroom, so she picked up our other students from the lunchroom and took them outside for a walk.
      Kathy kicked, pounded, shrieked, and cried for thirty minutes. I went to my desk after about ten minutes and turned on the tape recorder. I had never seen or heard anything like this. It was like a really bad tantrum a small child might have, and then fall asleep sobbing. That is exactly what Kathy did; after a half hour, she fell asleep on the floor. Salad untouched. Teacher astounded. Student asleep.
       I went to the door, motioned for a passing student, and sent her to go get the school nurse to come to my room. The nurse brought a blanket and a pillow. We gently moved Kathy, who awakened only momentarily, to a cot in the back of the room. She was soaking wet with sweat. We covered her with the blanket, I pulled our portable room divider around the cot, and Kathy slept soundly for the rest of the afternoon. The other students returned and we finished our classes for the day.
       When she awoke, she remembered very little of what had happened at lunch. She said she was hungry and ate her salad, with no dressing. Instead of putting her on the special school bus, I drove her home. All the way to her house, she repeatedly apologized for pinching boys. She didn't really recall what had happened at lunch, but she thought it had to do with her pinching boys. She said she didn't like the way she felt...not being able to remember what happened. I didn't tell her everything she did, thinking it was best not remembered.
       I did tell her she was going to be eating lunch in the room on Friday and she was fine with that. I had to write an incident report. I played the tape I had recorded for Dr. Haider, my principal at Emerson. He looked so sad as he listened to just a minute or two of it. He understood there was no comforting her. Dr. Haider said he was sorry I had to experience that, and he was especially sad for Kathy.
       Kathy's Friday lunch was uneventful; she and I started repairing our relationship.We talked about how touching boys was not a good idea. It wasn't what girls did at school. We sat together in the lunchroom all the next week and watched the other girls in the school. We observed no girls pinching boys, and really very little other touching. Kids still had boundaries then.
        Kathy returned to the halls and the lunchroom without incident. Just to be sure, my associate followed her, at a distance, for about a month, and Kathy did just fine.
        We never discussed the tantrum over Ranch dressing after that. That dressing was really not part of the equation. But, it certainly wasn't the pinching issue that set it off either. What it was is one of the most horrific classroom incidents in all of my years of teaching.
       About three months after this happened, shortly after Christmas Break, the school social worker discovered that Kathy was being sexually abused by a sixteen year old stepbrother. It had been going on for almost two years. He was prosecuted and sent to a juvenile institution.
       Well, that explained a lot; her overtly-sexual behavior, her low frustration level, and her memory loss. The school psychologist said that the "salad meltdown" she had was probably  a mechanism to help Kathy vent her feelings about the abuse.
        Kathy was a tough little girl. She was a tragic victim. She had survived her trauma admirably, given her limited intellectual ability. She deserved so much better.  Her response to counseling was positive, but there is never a good outcome when a child like Kathy is abused like that.
        I teach in an all-girl classroom now. It is my fifth year with only female students, and I am still learning. My girls are strong/fragile. Intelligent/gullible. Brave/vulnerable. They have all had trauma of various kinds in their young lives. We press on together, looking for their future. I try to teach them to be prepared for whatever opportunities may be presented to them in the years ahead. Their caseworkers and counselors from Orchard Place and Child Guidance provide tremendous support for them and their families, and for me. I have not had anything close to a "salad meltdown" with any of them, but we do still have our "moments".
        We tell the girls that whatever "issues" they bring to the room, we will help them deal with them. I strive to foster a positive, nurturing learning environment.
        What I learned from Kathy is part of this nurturing. I now know that a child may have an obvious disability (usually a behavior disability in my room), but that disability is not necessarily their biggest problem.  A student might say that "this" is what's wrong, but it may really be "that", and they might not even realize it how are the adults supposed to figure it out? Hmmmm, I guess that's why I can't wait to get to school every morning.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!

       I was a brand new teacher. My newly-born pedagogical skills still had placental blood on them. Tossed into a room with fifteen mentally disturbed and intellectually challenged teenagers, I was in survival mode. Oh, for sure, I ate determination for breakfast every morning, snacked on little bites of encouragement for lunch, but I drank a half bottle of wine the minute I walked into my house at 4:30PM every afternoon. I usually didn't even take off my coat or pour it into a glass. I just walked in the front door, went straight to the refrigerator, popped the cork, and drank it out of the bottle. Chateau Ste.Roseline. My own children ate a lot of Spaghettios that first year of teaching.
      My previous blog post subjects, Jeff, Lida, Rosemary, Troy, Scott, Mark, and Corey, were all in my classroom at the same time. And so was Bobby. Bobby was Lida's non-stop talking fishing friend (see Frankenstein or Jaws? post).
       This post is about Bobby. He was medicated with the gold standard of hyperactivity-battling medication back then in the early 1970s....ritalin. It didn't even phase him. Well, maybe it did, but I never saw him in the evenings, when it probably wore off. I only know for certain that it did not slow his speech down at all during the school day. He was the quintessential "motor mouth". I label him with that only in the most affectionate possible manner. He never used foul language and was always in a chipper mood. Bobby just never stopped talking. He couldn't help it, so that made the non-stop nature of  it much less annoying than you would think, but much of it was nonsense. I suspect Bobby wasn't even sure why he said most of the things that came out of his mouth.
        One day, almost everything Bobby talked about was related to trucks. My two teacher associates and I had listened to him most of the morning. Even with him doing most of his talking from his "office", behind a sound-proofed room divider, we had reached our saturation point. Our other students had also heard enough. We all just needed a couple of minutes of peace. I asked Bobby if he would please just stand out in the hall for five minutes....maybe he'd like to be our classroom policeman...."stand guard" at the door. There were windows in the door, so I could still observe him. Well, Bobby was very interested in this opportunity, but was sure he would need someone to talk to while he was out there. Being such a clever first-year teacher, I thought of the lockers in the hallway...the ones with the ventilation slots across the top of them. I suggested to Bobby that he could just  "talk to the lockers". What a great solution! "Pretend those air slots are a microphone! It will be fun, Bobby."
        Assigning Bobby to the hall for five minutes seemed like a wonderful idea for everyone. The other students could have a brief quiet time of respite, and the classroom staff could get a few minutes to gather our thoughts before moving to the next activity. Bobby could free-lance verbalize  with unfettered freedom.
        What could possibly go wrong?
        I did not calculate the possibility of the principal showing up.  Sure enough, after Bobby had been out in the hall only a minute, there was Dr. Haider, strolling down the third floor hallway.
       And there was Bobby, speaking in his fast-paced well-articulated voice, yapping into the locker..."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"  .....pause.... "Mack Truck!Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"...pause...."Mack Truck! MackTruck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!".....and on and on and on .
      "Oh! Hi, Dr. Haider!  Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
      "Hello, Bobby. What are you doing out here?"
      "My teacher sent me out here. She said I can be the class policeman. She said I could talk to the locker. Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
      "Bobby, how long have you been out here?"
      "Only a little time, sir. I only have five minutes! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!" ...pause...."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!" ...pause...."Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck! Mack Truck!"
        I peeked out the window to see how Bobby was doing. He was doing great. Talking to the locker. Having a wonderful time. I went back to the rest of the class for another couple of minutes, and then beckoned Bobby back into the room.
        The rest of our morning was a little more quiet. All that "locker talk" had worn Bobby out a bit.  The afternoon went uneventfully, the short yellow buses came to take the kids home, and it was quiet on the third floor.
       I went to the second floor, to the main office, to check my teacher mailbox. Seeing me from his office, Dr. Haider called to me, "Terri, please come talk with me."
      He had a thick Pakistani accent, but it was not too hard to get used to. I loved the way he said the word "discipline".  It sounded like "dah sip' a lin". He had several children of his own who were doctors and lawyers, as well as his youngest son, who was mentally challenged. Dr. Haider had been a well-known entomologist in his native country, but when this son was born, he re-entered the university, earned another doctorate in special education, and brought his family to America. He was a very gentle, caring administrator.
      Fortunately, he liked me. He used to tell me that he hired me because I looked like the actress Raquel Welch. I have no idea how that was possible, since she is a brown-eyed brunette, and totally exotic-looking. I was a blond, blue-eyed Iowa farm girl, but I was flattered nonetheless. However, he always made me feel he respected my teaching ability and he gave me many leadership opportunities within our school.
      So, that day...the day of Mack Truck... I entered his office and sat down across the desk from him. He was smiling broadly and shaking his head from side to side.
      The conversation went something like this, "Terri, you are a good teacher and a strong teacher. You are a smart woman. You do miracles with your students every day. This morning I found Bobby in the hall, talking to the locker."
       I didn't know Dr. Haider had been out there. I quickly tried to tell him why I had left Bobby in the hall by himself, "I can explain, Dr. Haider. The whole classroom needed a little break. It was only for five minutes. Bobby had a good time out there."
       "I'm glad it worked out today, but I think I have a better idea. Please call me when your class needs a break. I will listen to Bobby for a few minutes. I have plenty of time and would be happy to help you. Call me, please. I enjoy Bobby; he's a good boy." Then he added, "Why don't you go home early? You've had a long day."
         That great man has been the standard I have used to judge every administrator I have worked for since then. He cared for the kids. He cared for the teachers. He put his personal touch on every part of Emerson School. I will never forget Dr.Sajjad Haider, who taught me to ask for help if I needed it.  He taught me to take a break when I need it.
         Then there is Bobby, who taught me to give my students a break when they need it, or when I need it. He also taught me there are ideas that seem to be good at first, but are not always that good.  In the future, however, Bobby did get more breaks in the hall, with Dr. Haider. They enjoyed each other, and my classroom enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet.  Thanks, Dr. Haider, and thanks, Bobby.    

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Frankenstein or Jaws?

          Wearing a red plaid flannel shirt and a pair of men's jeans, Lida stepped hesitantly into my classroom. Her Afro was trimmed quite close. With her straight up and down physique, she could have been mistaken for a boy. I welcomed her warmly, but she neither looked directly at me, nor did she return my smile. She didn't want to sit down, choosing instead to stand in the far back corner the entire first day of school.  She was correctly placed in my room, I knew that for sure.
         At sixteen, this sad-eyed bi-racial girl never wore makeup, but always wore a long-sleeved flannel shirt and jeans. It was like her uniform. She cooperated well with instruction and was actually a very bright young woman. Of course, in my class, bright was always a relative term. The rest of my students were all there for the same general reason: each one was normal or near normal intellectually, but functioned at a level that put them in the range of being severely developmentally disabled. To put it another way, they were mentally ill or had another condition that prevented them from performing at their maximum level of intelligence. They were not regular high school material. I called my classroom the "junior college" of our special school for intellectually handicapped kids.
        Like many of the others, Lida had been traumatized. At first, the social worker was very obtuse about exactly what had happened to her. She dodged my occasional inquiries with comments like, "It really won't help you to know",  and "You should speak with her mother about that."  Even these days, with my current students, I generally do not make it a practice to know all the gruesome details of their lives. Too much information can make it difficult to be the fair-handed educator, instead of their therapist. I decided to wait until parent conference time in the fall, and just cover the topic with her mother then.
        I discovered the the extent of damage to Lida the third day of school. The building principal was "making his rounds" and he knocked on my classroom door, peeking through the window in the door.  Because she had insisted that she did not want anyone sitting behind her, Lida was seated in the back of the room,  near the bank of windows on my east wall. Seeing his mustached face and hearing his first three or four firm knocks, Lida jumped out of her desk, nearly knocking it over. She extended her arms at shoulder level out in front of her and started growling; then she began pacing back and forth in front of the windows, marching with large stiff steps, like Frankenstein. The effect she was aiming for was perfectly obvious.  She never took her eyes off the door.  The "monster" was on guard in the rear of my class. 
       Dr. Haider, was a sweet older Pakistani gentleman. He had a developmentally disabled son of his own and was very loving and gentle toward all the students. He heard the loud noises coming from my room and  opened the door.
       Lida shouted, "You need to leave! Frankenstein is angry and dangerous! Get out!"
       Dr. Haider knew exactly what to do. He backed out and closed the door behind him. Lida completed stomping two more lengths of the classroom and returned to her seat; then she crossed her arms on top of the desk and put her head down. I just stood there, not moving or speaking, while this thirty second drama played itself out. The other students resumed their lessons.
       A similar incident occurred two days later. A  male custodian came into the room to examine our wall of windows for their winter readiness. (That's the sort of thing you need to do in early September in Minnesota.)
      This time, Lida abruptly stood up again, then backed a few steps into the corner of the room, with a fixed stare at the man. She put one of her hands on each side of her mouth and started clasping her fingers in  chomping motions, while simultaneously making loud chomping sounds with her own teeth. In a low, almost bass rumbling voice, Lida warned, "Look out for Jaws! Look out for Jaws!" Her eyes were fierce, but also fearful.
        The custodian retreated to the hall, just as the principal had, saying he would be back after school. Lida returned to her seat, and put her head down for a while.  The movie Jaws had been released the previous summer and most of my students had seen it. They were very complimentary about Lida’s shark simulation, but she did not thank them. It was serious business for her, not entertainment. We had episodes like this less than once a week after Lida became more familiar with the male adults in the building. The females caused no alarm for her, but any unknown man she saw sent her into her Jaws or Frankenstein terror. At outside recess,  I had to make sure she did not venture too close to the six-foot high chain link fence that surrounded out downtown school playground. An unsuspecting man passing by on the sidewalk could trigger one of these episodes. She would still get that fearful wide-eyed look when around the familiar men, but not resort to the scary imitations. Her purposeful androgynous appearance provided some cushion for her; many folks thought she was a boy.
       At fall parent conferences, Lida’s mother came at the scheduled time. We usually wanted to have students at the conferences, but her mom had left Lida at home. When I joined this mother at the conference table, she already had tears rolling down her face. The social worker had her arm around Lida’s mother and was comforting her. Smiling at me and patting the mother’s shoulder, the social worker assured me that these tears were tears of joy. She was so happy Lida was staying in school,  making friends, and not resisting attendance.
      “After all she has been through,” Mom finally explained, “she deserves to feel safe and happy. I know she will never be the same after this rape, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to make her feel protected.
      Why hadn't the social worker told me at the beginning of the school year that Lida had been raped? I had thought all along that the root of her behavior was probably rape, or some other sort of sexual assault.  Within the first week of school, I had seen Lida transform herself into two impervious characters in the presence of unknown men. She was afraid of most men and her adaptive behavior was to transform herself into those extremely frightening creatures. Pretty clever, really. Who is less vulnerable than Jaws or Frankenstein?  Obviously, this reaction seems a little extreme, even for a rape. Rape is horrific crime, and Lida had been raped horrifically, by several men, several times. Lida had lost herself. Most of the time, her eyes looked much like the ones at the top of this blog. She was so full of hurt and sadness. Our experts found that her mental disability made it difficult to counsel her. Still, she had found her own way to defend herself.
       As the conference proceeded, I was able to report glowingly on Lida's progress in all areas of her academics and behavior. She was indeed making friends and making good gains in her life skills. Her grooming had improved greatly, although she still insisted on her flannel shirt and jeans wardrobe.
      One of her best friends from my class was a very hyperactive young man. He was a slim, blond, blue-eyed talking machine. Lida never tired of listening to him. He was so grateful to have her for a friend. They also lived in the same neighborhood, so they became fishing buddies in the local creek. Their weekend jaunts to the banks of that creek gave them both much pleasure, until one fateful Saturday. The young man decided to bring his two brothers with him. They had no ill intent; they just wanted to meet Lida.
      When he went to meet Lida down by the creek, she observed them approaching her. She apparently felt trapped between them and the creek, so as they approached, in spite of the fact that her good friend Bobby was with them, Lida pulled out a pocket knife. She stabbed her friend three times and each of his brothers twice, before she ran away. They were superficial wounds, but the damage had been done. There was more damage coming Lida's way. The police were called and when they came to her house to arrest her, there was a ferocious struggle by some very tenacious police officers before they were able to handcuff the terrified Frankenshark. Lida was hospitalized after threatening suicide in juvenile detention.
       Ultimately, the young men and their parents did not press charges, and it was not even the end of the fishing friendship. However, the part of this narrative that does not turn out happily is the additional trauma inflicted on Lida. She had been traumatized by the fright of possibly  being gang-raped again. Her arrest was a tragically violent one. She had unfortunately wounded a gentle young man she felt true friendship toward. The young man's forgiveness did not comfort Lida. Having her mother accompany them on future fishing trips really took away the sense of independence and adventure that was most of these excursions' appeal. Most importantly, Lida's sense of personal safety had once again been devastated. It was a very dark time for her.
       Lida was in my classroom for three more years. She made tremendous strides in her life during that time. She became an assistant for feeding one of the most severely handicapped younger students in our building. She excelled in her home economics classes. Lida also helped a volunteer from a nearby dental college organize an after-lunch tooth brushing program for all 200 students in the school. At nineteen she transitioned into the vocational part of our curriculum and became trained as a housekeeper at a suburban Marriott hotel. Her mother "teamed" with her and they were allowed to work together. It gave Lida the independence of her own paycheck, while letting her work with the physical security of a trusted partner. By this time, the days of Jaws and Frankenstein were behind her. Maybe not far behind her, but intentionally pushed into the past. She was determined to move forward.

       Lida was what I call a "long-term project". There were times, like the stabbing, when it seemed like Lida's life was on the edge of complete ruin. Still, she persevered, far beyond her limited mental capacity. This accomplishment, in itself, is almost unbelievable.
     My lesson from this was simple. Redemption exists. Coming from an experience that would put most adult women into years of therapy, this teenager survived multiple subsequent traumas, and still prevailed. I don't know what reaching the "lowest point" might be for a teenage girl, but I think Lida must have been close; more than once. She battled back from rape. She struggled with suicidal thoughts. She overcame immobilizing, irrational fear. Certainly, her coping mechanism was not a conventional one, but Frankenstein and Jaws gave her space and time to recover her sanity and find her way to her future. I want to believe that Lida is happy, working, maybe still living with her mother; maybe even still friends with Bobby. I am sure she is surrounded by loving, caring family and supporters, and that she is helping others, volunteering, giving back. She deserves that.