2014-05-28

By Sara Miller, senior corps member serving at Rogers Middle School

She trudged into my office, tears welling in her eyes. She silently handed me a bright pink note that read, “Sheyla* to Room 107 to chat with Ms. Miller – 2:07 p.m.” A corps member’s initials at the bottom of the pass verified her story. Sheyla was visibly upset, but in that moment, I couldn’t have been more proud; although it hurt me to see her upset, Sheyla’s actions of following directions and maturely processing her feelings showed me just how far she had come in the past six months.

As a senior corps member and Team Leader of the Rogers Middle school team, I have an authoritative role centered on behavior management during our extended day program, which Sheyla attends. During my first interaction with Sheyla in early October, she burst into Room 107—a flurry of flying papers spilling out of her overflowing binder—screaming at the top of her lungs.

It took Sheyla and me about 15 minutes to calmly begin talking about why she had been sent to see me at the extended day program’s equivalent of the principal’s office. It was a less than productive conversation, during which she blamed others and didn’t take responsibility for her actions. As the year continued, we had many similar interactions, but I always coached Sheyla to alter her habits of disrupting the classroom, engaging in fights, and not following directions.

Slowly but surely, she began to say hi to me between classes during the school day, and I saw the opportunity to leverage the relationship we were building. I jumped at every chance to positively praise Sheyla for any small win I saw: holding the door for a friend, asking politely for a snack, or standing up for friends when they were being bullied. I saw such great potential in Sheyla as a leader.

We ate lunch together once a week and learned more about one another as individuals. We exchanged funny stories about our week, talked about our families, and discussed the various hardships of middle school. During our lunches, we had coaching conversations about her power to be a positive student leader and how to rise above all of the hard parts of middle school to realize her dreams and aspirations in the future. I began to see a change in Sheyla as she thought about middle school struggles and began believing in her power to change those for herself and others.

I was surprised when she came down to Room 107 with her pink pass a few weeks ago—it had been quite some time since I had seen her for a behavior-related situation. I could tell this was different, though; Sheyla began to cry as she explained to me that she was not sent to Room 107, but asked to come see me to talk through something that had just happened.

Some of the boys in class started teasing her. One of her friends told her to hit the boys, trying to instigate a fight. Yet, because of our conversations about the importance of using words instead of violence, Sheyla refused to give in to peer pressure. Instead, she calmly walked away to ask her corps member if she could come see me.

She confided in me that she was crying because she thought others would make fun of her for not being tough enough to fight, to which I asked her, “Do you think it makes you brave to fight or to walk away?”

Sheyla answered, “I am brave, because I walked away.”

Although Sheyla still has tough days behaviorally, they are less frequent than before. Now, we are working on finding ways for Sheyla to process her feelings with other adults in the school building, with her friends, and on her own, because come June when my senior corps year ends, I will not be around to help Sheyla deescalate in times of turmoil.

Seeing her growth this year, I truly believe that Sheyla will continue to thrive as an 8th-grader next year and beyond. Sheyla told me that someday she wants to be a corps member like me, and whether or not that happens, I know she will continue to stand up for others, fight for positivity, and be the change she wishes to see in the world.

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