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From Hardship to Hero: An Educator’s View Of Her Students

This is part of a series of posts from nominees for our LifeChanger of the Year educator recognition program. We meet scores of fascinating LifeChangers every year who have interesting perspectives to share about children, education and life.

Sometimes children view life looking through a crystal. They get everything they need, from a good night’s sleep, to a good breakfast in the morning to a wonderful day at school. With plenty of friends, they fit in and even become the popular kid in class.

But not everyone can see that view.

What about the children whose view is through the lens of hardship. They have interrupted sleep, no breakfast and a horrible day at school. With no friends, they don’t fit in and get picked on in class.

There are many facets to social and economic issues for children. Some of them are: child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, poverty and hygiene neglect, just to name a few. They face peer pressure, get bullied or become bullies; become suicidal and truant. Their issues become bigger than education and that makes it difficult to become a scholar or high achiever.

But they continue to go to school daily with these burdens, trying to concentrate, compete, learn and be the best they can be. But it’s hard and they need help to make it through.

Going on eight years now, I spend countless hours serving as the Lancaster ISD Truancy Coordinator. And my goal is to recognize a child’s problem, address the issue and offer services with hopes to help them overcome barriers and obstacles to keep them in school or return back to the classroom.

We hear about children committing suicide at the age of 9 years old. We see children coming to school with dirty clothes and smell the hygiene neglect. We see children looking socially awkward and the next thing you hear in the news are terroristic threats and shootings in schools.

As adults, it’s all of our responsibility to help in some way.

My main two ingredients are to bring in resources, and build community partnerships. Putting a smile on a child’s face and making their learning atmosphere warm and welcoming is what I’m all about.

One of my greatest success stories is about a mother calling my office one day frantically crying because her child was walking to school because he refused to be absent despite the fact they moved two miles out of the school bus zone due to hardship. He didn’t have a cell phone so she didn’t know if he made it or not.

I immediately left my office to search for the kid. I found him limped over gasping for air due to asthma related issues. I was able to get him stable, and then took him to school. I made sure he ate breakfast and went to class. He looked back and smiled. Although he felt I was his hero, he was ultimately my hero.

I have several programs geared toward motivating students to come to school and one is a “Campus Washer Dryer Initiative.” I partner with local appliance retailers to have them donate washers and dryers via grants that I obtain.

Through my experience, I’ve discovered too many children have to decide whether to come to school wearing dirty clothes, due to their family’s struggles, or don’t come at all. Also kids have mishaps while at school and can’t change clothes. All of these issues have one major underlying result: Bullying, which leads to truancy, low self-esteem, and suicide.

It is essential that children know you care and they are not alone. Every child deserves a chance at an education.

A hero is a child who struggles with life-afflicted problems beyond their control but endure for a chance at a brighter tomorrow. That’s a hero from hardship.

Learn more about Dona Mitchell on her LifeChanger of the Year profile.