Why School Matters: My Own Story – Part I

I always struggle with telling my own personal story. I’m not sure I’m supposed to. I’ve started to tell it more and more though. Yet I think it helps to share it and describe what brought me to the issues I care deeply about. One of those issues is education. I tend to take a hard line and this can make me a little unpopular, but I truly believe in the power of public education to change the lives of the kids we serve. Personally, I was connected to school, and because of that, I see it as a priority. That’s my bias.

On a deeper level, you can’t stop the cycle of abuse and neglect if the children in our system leave it unprepared for the future. We know beyond a doubt that poverty plays an enormous role in abuse and neglect. We also know that education is directly related to poverty. So to me they are completely connected.

My own experience began around my sixteenth birthday. My parents had recently divorced and I moved with my mother into a small apartment in Arvada, while my sisters moved with my father. The divorce had been a long process, beginning a few years earlier, but it hastened with my mother’s first suicide attempt. She didn’t come home one night and that was the beginning of a long process in which my mother started to work through her past as a sex abuse survivor. I had noticed signs and had always known something wasn’t quite right, but it took a long time to come to the surface. According to my mother, it was changing her name back to her maiden name that unleashed it. She said it had to do with writing it more than anything.

My mother was institutionalized off and on for the rest of my high school. A lot happened during this time, but suffice it to say, I got a job and started paying rent. No one said anything so long as the rent check was there each month. I also had this strange and inexplicable desire to go to school and not tell a soul what was happening. It wasn’t because I didn’t think people would help, but it was mostly because I was surviving, and I wanted a refuge. That was more important to me. I worked at a fast food place, and I had a lot of my meals there. What I needed was a place I could go and be a kid. I needed somewhere to go and leave all my troubles behind. To this day, I have no idea why I chose to do that, but what I do know is that worked for me.

At present, I sit on an Educational Outcomes Committee. I was appointed to it (not without a little maneuvering first) and I am very proud of the work it is doing. The focus of the committee is to help improve education for children and youth in the foster care system. As you might know, children and youth in the foster care system have very low graduation rates, and very high dropout rates. There are a few subcommittees, but the one I sit on is looking at transportation and how to keep kids connected to their school if that is in their best interest. Interestingly, the law says that the “presumption” is that kids stay in their school, and that the exception is changing schools. This is absolutely key to improving education outcomes.

Next month I’ll get into the details of that.