Supporting Challenged Kids

More than a decade ago, before blogging tools were common, MiddleWeb offered space at our first website for a dozen or more teachers and principals to keep weekly public diaries, offering insight into the realities of middle school life by sharing stories about educators and students. From time to time we plan to post entries from our Diaries archive so we can be sure some of the best writing from those early days remains visible on the Internet.

Michelle-PedigoWhen she posted this entry about “Ramsey,” Michelle Pedigo was principal of Barren County Middle School (7-8) in Glasgow, Kentucky. BCMS was recognized during her tenure as a national “School to Watch” by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. In 2001, Michelle was named the National Middle School Principal of the Year. Today, she is a regional vice president for Metlife, a former school board member in Barren County, and a persistent advocate for quality rural public education.

In this particular post, Michelle Pedigo doesn’t do a lot of writing — instead she shares part of a frank report from her school’s then youth services center director, describing some personal challenges faced by one eighth grader. Her comment at the end will ring true to many teachers and principals who work with children living in difficult circumstances.

This post is not only evidence of the value of youth support programs in schools but reminds us that the work of K12 educators encompasses much more than academics. We shouldn’t need to say that, of course. But more than a decade after this post was written, as debates continue over the role and value of public educators, it seems we still do. ~ John Norton, MiddleWeb founder and co-editor

The Realities of Ramsey’s Life

by Michelle Pedigo

The best reflection of the week is to include a portion of an e-mail I received from our Youth Service Center Director. As a part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, grants can be approved for a Youth Service Center, depending on the percentage of free/reduced lunch students at the school. The mission of the Youth Service Center is to reduce barriers to learning, and they are a valuable asset to our school. Below is the e-mail. (I have changed all names.)

Update on Ramsey: I met with Ramsey on Monday to discuss personal hygiene. He understands the concerns about kids picking on him, but sadly says “I’m used to it.” I gave him personal hygiene stuff for him and his sister and encouraged him to leave some at school and the rest to take home. I also told him we (YSC) would allow him to shower here at school if the need arises, providing towel, wash cloth, soap, shampoo, toothbrush/paste and privacy! He said he would shower daily at home. He said he sometimes gets up late for school so he has to rush to get ready.

We also talked about his dad being ill. He is very concerned about his dad’s health and feels responsible for helping take care of him since he’s the oldest child. His sister is a 7th grader here. Says they don’t have much money to get stuff but they make it on his dad’s disability money. Says he helps keep the house clean and cooks food too. He really just seems overwhelmed with the situation and the new responsibility he feels for caring for dad. He didn’t mention many people coming in to help the family out. Says his dad is taking treatments for the cancer but doesn’t know the prognosis.

Big school buildingI did a home visit this morning and dad’s story is similar but there are some notable differences. Dad is very upbeat and says the doctors give him a good chance of making it. He has been on treatments daily for about a week and a half. Has several more to go. This all started when his dad hurt his hip 7 weeks ago and had to have surgery to put in a steel plate in the hip. That’s when they found the cancer. He originally had a mass in his chest, but the cancer moved to the hip–the weakest part of his body. Now Eric (dad) pretty much stays in bed all the time because he’s so weak. He has the best attitude a cancer patient can have–I’m going to beat this thing. He’s very optimistic about the whole thing.

Now back to Ramsey. Eric has also talked to Ramsey about the body odor problem. He tells him to shower etc…He says Ramsey has every opportunity to bathe, but sometimes just doesn’t. Yes Ramsey has been taking on a greater role in caring for Eric. Taking him to the bathroom, bathing him, etc… That’s a lot for a 14 year old to deal with. Ramsey tells Eric that he’s scared that he’s going to die. Eric assures Ramsey that he has faith and he will be cured of the cancer. Ramsey is VERY close to his dad and is having a lot of stress over this whole situation.

Mom is not in the picture — they are trying to get some additional public assistance (KTAP and child support) — but she really is no support at all. They sometimes get a Christmas card from her. It’s a very sad situation but Eric is doing the best he can under the circumstances. He is a religious man and relies a lot on his faith to get through the days. I encouraged him to continue this.

Any way, as far as the household, Eric says that neighbors bring food daily and that a neighbor takes him for his radiation every day. Local churches have also helped with food. They also get food stamps and are doing OK. The need toward the end of the month is laundry detergent, soap, bleach, cleaners etc… I told him that I would help with this near the end of Nov. He’s going to call me when they need something. The first of the month is always better than the end of the month. I’ve also referred them to the Kiwanis club for Christmas assistance. Eric is getting me sizes for the kids, but wants it to stay a secret from the kids.

My recommendation for Ramsey: a lot of love. He just needs the encouragement now.

Messages like this make all the awards, the test scores, and daily schedules appear mundane. “Ramsey” just wants his daddy to be well, and I don’t blame him. Sadly enough, a lot of students fall into this category.

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