Meira Shuman was an AmeriCorps member at Von Humboldt Juvenile Hall School in Eureka. This is her story:
I liked this student the first time I met him.
He was rowdy, he cursed, he broke rules with wild abandon, he was a pain in the neck for a lot of the teachers…He hated school… He told me that he thought he would grow up to be just like his brothers. Everyone else seemed to agree with him. His brothers are all in prison for gang-related activities.
He was soon locked up in his room for misbehavior. Instead of behaving so he could return to the classroom, he refused to do any work, and continued to tag his papers with gang writing. I was told this was typical for this student. I knew that he could work hard, he just wasn’t motivated. On a whim, I wrote him a letter in his cell.
In the letter, I talked about how amazing life is and how much potential he had. I said we missed him in the classroom. I drew him a time-line of life, showing that he had only lived the tiniest and most difficult portion of a potential 100 years. I wrote the letter thinking he would laugh at it and rip it up, but I sent it anyways. A few days later, this student started doing work. He did everything he was assigned, behaved appropriately, and was soon allowed back into the classroom.
Once during a classroom discussion, he told a story about a boy in his room who didn’t care about anything at all and thought nobody cared about him. He said that this boy got a letter from a girl that showed him how much more there was to life. Then, in front of the entire class, he pointed at me, “And that girl is her…”
Now this student, who previously had mountains of credits to make up before he was even caught up with his own grade, is set to graduate… He is already looking forward to going to college and plans on opening his own group home someday, so that he can help other youth who are going through the same troubles he has gone through in his life.