Monday, November 7, 2011

No Chance to Say Goodbye

My heart sank when I saw the blinding “DC” next to Mary’s name when I reviewed my attendance data grid this morning.  She had been discharged, which means she and her family moved and she will be attending another school.  Unfortunately this is not uncommon at all.  Working with at risk students, many live in extreme poverty and are forced to move a lot or travel between shelters.  Generally the longer we work with students, the more likely they are to remain in the school.  The families we work with obtain a level of stability, while new students that come into our program might be forced to move after just a few weeks due to housing issues or other factors. 

What is difficult is the nature of how the students depart.  There is no forwarding information as to where they’re moving, what school they’ll be attending or whether they’ll get the support they need. Most importantly there’s no closure. With Mary, I felt like we could make a difference in her life.  While she lacked basic social skills, she was smart and had so much potential.  I believe a lot of her issues stemmed from her home situation.  By providing her with tools to combat these challenges we could have helped her build confidence, self-esteem and focus on her education. 

When a student leaves the group dynamics get disturbed as well.  It’s almost better that Mary was discharged early in the year.  We just started group a few weeks ago and the students are still getting to know each other.  Had this been 3 months down the road, it would be much harder.  Our small group members, especially in the Girls Group, get very close.  They understand what each other is going through and support each other in amazing ways.  We try to maintain consistency in our groups, something that these students may not be able to depend on outside school.  When a student is absent or moves, the entire group feels it.

When a student is discharged I feel a very complex set of emotions. I mourn the student’s absence but at the same time, this is the nature of my work.  I can’t dwell on a student who has left when there are so many other students that need help.  On one hand, Mary’s discharge opens up a new slot for another student to be helped, but on the other hand I worry that Mary is okay where she is.  I want to believe she’s getting the support she needs elsewhere, but I’m just not sure. 

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