Two of our students chose to bring Challenge Day to our school as their Senior Project. If you're not familiar with the project, it is a way to build community amongst teens and the adults in their lives - to bring people together by talking about experiences and sharing understanding. Trained individuals run the event during which strong issues & emotions are often revealed. It is supposed to be powerful & moving.
I love my job and this school. I love my students; I look forward to talking with them and getting to know them. I even enjoy seeing them outside of the classroom.
I would rather not, however, break down and cry around them. So while I was being the encouraging educator and supporting our Seniors, I was feeling increasingly concerned about how I personally might handle the day.
A lot of students, who clearly know me better than I like to admit, teased me beforehand about potentially being made to actually cry (I have, sadly, been asked a few times if I EVER cry; apparently I am *that* steely-looking). I gave them my best eyebrow raise, resisted punching them, and said I would try getting all my sobs out privately the night before so nobody would have to be subjected to it at Challenge Day. In reality, I took lots of deep breaths and kept a reserve of non-sad thoughts on tap (memories of boring teachers, irritating ex-boyfriends, times I got speeding tickets, etc).
The best moment of the morning came when a facilitator gaily mentioned that it is good for people's health to give at least 12 hugs every day. AT LEAST 12. I could not hide my mixed feelings of incredulity & horror at this thought and when I looked left, one of my Seniors was giggling at me; he popped over to hug me during the next session.
My first share was to explain that I frequently feel guilty about having had no major problems in my life - I have never been beaten, told I'm stupid, or kicked out of my home; I have no addictions nor does anyone I've lived with; nobody I've been extremely close to has died suddenly or violently; I've not gone hungry, been homeless, or truly feared for my life. I do not want any of this to happen to me but the more I work with kids who have dealt with these things before their 18th birthday, the more I wish I could just take that piece on for them. It is not that I don't believe these kids can handle what they've been through, that they can't survive - they have, so far. But so many struggle with traumas they just should not have to.
We did an activity called "Cross the Line" in which the facilitator announced various ordeals people face and those who had experienced them walked across a line then turned toward the rest of the group. The last call was for people to cross if they had ever been a child. The number of my students who stayed behind broke my heart. Keeps on breaking my heart.
In the end, the event was fine. Better than fine - magical. People talked about real thoughts & feelings; everyone followed directions, participated, opened up, listened. Kids hoped for the closeness to continue; one asked that we move the lunchroom tables at our school together so everyone can sit closer, like a family.
I cried, for the things these kids have been through and are still facing, and for the things they've missed. About the possibility that my own children might someday endure similar trials. But I also felt relieved, because they can all now trust that there is someone near them to offer love & support, no matter what.
Plus I got - and gave - some really good hugs.