I arrived at school this morning with just enough time to walk to the gym for my morning bus duty. Bus duty only lasts for ten minutes - ten minutes of controlled chaos. There are probably a couple hundred kids in the gym, along with two teachers to supervise. Despite the noise, I enjoy being there to greet the children as they get off the buses and then sit in the gym to wait for the bell to go to their classrooms.
There are several kids who make a point to greet me with a hug or a quick chat each morning. Ryan is one of the ones who never fails to seek me out before going to the cafeteria for breakfast. This morning, he seemed particularly anxious to talk to me.
As soon as he got close enough, he burst out, "We had to call an ambulance to my house last night because my mama couldn't breathe."
"Oh no, Ryan. I'm so sorry. Is she okay now?"
"Yes, she's fine now."
"Oh good! I'm glad she's okay. Does she have asthma? Is that why she had a hard time breathing?"
Ryan looked around and lowered his voice. "No, she was drunk. The doctor told her that she had to stop drinking." He brightened, "She said she would."
"I'm sorry, Ryan. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, but I'm tired. I didn't get to sleep last night." He started towards the cafeteria, but then turned back, "Mama said I could tell one person. So it's okay I told you."
"Of course it's okay to tell me."
Ryan then headed off for his breakfast.
And that is why some children won't make that all-important goal of one year's growth in reading and math during a school year. Too many children must deal with problems much more important to them than their schoolwork. Who cares if 5 x 6 = 30 if your mom had to be rushed to the hospital because she drank too much and you didn't get any sleep because you were left to wonder all night whether or not she was alive?
After Ryan walked away, I looked over the sea of children there in the gym - all those happy, solemn, animated, frowning, talking, laughing faces - each one a unique and precious child. And I realized anew that we never know what children must deal with outside of school. Our few hours with them are just a small window into their world. Ryan shared his secret with me, but I wondered what secrets other children were keeping to themselves.
I talked with our school's guidance counselor about Ryan. The guidance counselor, social worker and student support services teachers are all aware of the situation and are working with Ryan's family. The bad news is that alcoholism is difficult to overcome. There is a hard road ahead for the whole family. The good news is that Ryan and his brothers have both parents at home, and Ryan's mom told the guidance counselor that she wants help. Maybe the episode the other night was the catalyst for her to seek help. Our school has provided clothes, shoes, coats and school supplies for the children in the family for several years. Outreach groups provide Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts, too. Ryan has a strong network of support from the school and community. I pray that it will be enough.