Episcopalians can be creatures of habit, so I was surprised this past Sunday to see Tom in the church Parlor before the 8:30 a.m. service. Tom is an 11:00 a.m. person, while I am an 8:30, and it is rare for the twain to meet.
Tom is a tough, gruff older man with a marshmallow core, who teaches Economics at the High school in which I work. While we were chatting, it came up that he missed presiding over the ISS classroom. ISS means In School Suspension, and this is where the troublemakers are parked, for as little as one class period or as much as a week. I asked Tom what he missed about the ISS room.
“Really?” I couldn’t help smiling at his vehemence. “Those are the kids everybody else complains about! What do you like about them?”
“The stories,” he shakes his head a little. “Some of those kids… they’re dealing with things no adult should.”
Tom is right. Some of our kids are dealing with things no adult should: poverty, domestic violence, hunger, pregnancy; some are refugees from war-torn countries.
One of my jobs is to code the students at risk of dropping out, and there are a variety of reasons a student may be At Risk: pregnancy; homelessness; failure of 2 or more core courses; failing the TAKS test; being previously incarcerated and on parole; CPS involvement in his or her family life… many different reasons and each has a check-box I click. When a student leaves the school, one of a variety of Leaver Codes is entered into his or her profile. Graduation, withdrawing and going to another school, returning to his or home country if a foreign national, and death, among other reasons, all have a particular code. Leaver Code 03 is used when a student dies. It is rare to see that particular code, but this week one of the two Registrars will enter that code on a student record. A young man took his own life Tuesday night.
He was a gifted student, excelling in AP (Advanced Placement) courses, well-liked by the other members in the school marching band. There seemed to be no warning signs, no indication that he was facing anything so difficult that death seemed the only solution. He was not quite 17 years old.
The Counselors are counseling and some students are struggling with the news. The memorial service time and location has been announced. Band members may wear a ribbon in his memory to the UIL competition. He wasn’t a trouble-maker and he wasn’t coded At Risk; he was a model student who gave no indication he was struggling with things no adult should. But, clearly he was. I think of all the caring people working here, the kids in his classes and on the band who were his friends, and his family, grieving for him. Did we have our eyes trained on the kids in ISS while he quietly slipped through the cracks? What demons preyed upon him? Will we ever know?