Monday, November 23, 2009


One student to an eighth grader: “Are you Italian?” (Her last name makes no doubt about her Italian heritage. I point out her grade to show she’s not in kindergarten.) “No. What’s [Italian]?”

I spent two days substitute teaching at the local Alternative High School last week. All the students are considered highly “at-risk”. They’ve either failed academically or socially in the “normal” schools, and the alternative school is the last hope to keep them in school and work toward a diploma.

As I observed their behavior these two days I couldn’t help but wonder how they arrived here. Where are their parents? For most, the answer is they’re at home. But what broke down, or perhaps better when did the break down occur in their culture resulting in the byproduct before me?

Some of these kids, I’m told, are in abusive homes. Most, I suspect, are in negligent homes at best, which is another form of abuse. Some have criminal records. And now here they are - adolescents with little hope of lasting in the real world that is rapidly spinning their way. Most will wind up being supported by “the system”. (Our tax dollars at work.)

I see the problem. The question that disturbs me is “Is there anything I can do to stem this tide; to make a difference?” Probably not for these kids. Pessimistic but realistic. The faculty and administration here are trying hard, but it doesn’t take long to read the futility in their eyes and voices. Banging your head against a wall can do that. But I can try.

But what about the kids coming up behind them – the ones in pre-school and elementary school who are still moldable? Is the long range solution to focus on the kids or on the parents who produce them?

Wait a second. These kids will be the next generation of parents. Some already are.

“What grade did you fail?” “A bunch of them. Second grade, third grade, tenth grade…I can’t help it.”

If I didn’t believe in miracles I’d be really depressed right now.


ladybug said...

Sorry Rick but it is not ALWAYS the parents fault. This post made me cry for lots of reasons. First for all the kids that are "failing" for whatever reason and second for all the parents who have heard time and time again that it is their fault that their kid is such a failure. Maybe, just maybe if the "system" shifted focus just a little bit things would be different. Maybe if these kids had an advocate in their corner, from within the system, they would not be in the situation they are in.

My advocate is Jesus and He alone has taught me to forgive,and to show grace, mercy and love. By His word I am given the strength to fight every battle necessary for the sake of my child's success. And through all of this perseverance my character is being built.

Brenda said...

God placed you there for a reason, Rick. Maybe a seed for a new ministry was planted, or just maybe you had the opportunity to impact a life, or to show one of those kids unconditional caring. It could be that you were there to encourage a struggling staff member. Surely you were there as an ambassador for Christ, using your gift of teaching.

Rick Lawrenson said...

No, it is not always the parents' fault.

But shouldn't the parents be the advocate in their corner?

And we can't expect the "system" to help us. Our "system" in this country has self-destructed for the most part.

And ladybug, you are a great example of advocacy for your kids.

BrunetteKoala said...

I have a friend that works in a school for 'at risk' kids (equivalent of elementary school age). She is often covered in bruises.

But she and teachers put so much in, and it DOES make a difference. Like the 7 year old kid who finally made it to the toilet after she's been helping them get potty trained.

It's also really draining. Staff turnover is high. They often don't have enough budget to do all they need to do to help these kids reach their full potential.

We can judge, but we just don't know. A lot of the parents they are struggling so much and needing healing from all sorts of things, and need an advocate themselves. It's tough. Not good for the kids for sure. And there's definitely a limit on how far you can blame kids' behaviour on their parents I reckon.

and I reckon Brenda is right...God has placed you there for a reason Pastor Rick! From what I can tell of you and your family's blogs you are a caring pastor, a gifted teacher, have a sense of humour and a loving parent. You have much to give.

Jesus taught us not to show judgment on 'sinners' (aren't we all?) but to forgive, and to love them graciously, practically, mercifully and most of all...compassionately. To encourage. To disciple.

Agnes said...

One thing that comes to my mind is a lack of access to early intervention services in Dare County. Not sure how the rest of the county operates but if something this basic is not in place makes me wonder about things such as parent advocacy as well as other intervention programs.
However what you observed, I believe, is just a small scale picture of the ongoing breakdown of our society which has been on going for serial decades.

Laurie Everett said...

I am scanning the internet looking for a church youth program that may possibly help my son( we have already been turned away by a youth program in Manteo,where we live) see,I am one of "those parents"My 11 year old son has been in a Christian based residential treatment,to help him cope with his severe anxiety and yes, a medically diagnosed behavior problem,he is now home in Dare Co. but not doing well.Im sure there are many children at the alternative diagnosed and undiagnosed who are struggling .God Bless Ladybug for her compassion, and open mind.Please Pastor,open your heart,families who are hurting need your comfort and unconditional acceptance. Gods peace,Laurie