"Even If You Have To Drop Out, Stay Connected"
Today I found out that one of my students decided to drop out of high school. The idea of a student dropping out isn't all that uncommon or shocking. Usually, the decision to drop out is preceded by years of struggle and poor attendance, so there is a mutual understanding that while dropping out may not be a good decision, it is the best decision.
Kelly* entered my school during her senior year, and she didn't seem happy about it. She had left the familiarity of friends, family and Southern hospitality to come to Buffalo. She told me during our first few conversations that she had moved frequently and hadn't been in school all that much. I hate to use cliches, but every time I saw her, she looked like a fish out of water. She was the ultimate outsider. She was too cool to flap around like a real fish out of water might, but I could tell that she couldn't breathe. I'm sure a lot of her teachers and peers reached out to her to prove that Buffalo is truly a city of good neighbors, but it was clear that she just wanted to be somewhere else. During the three months that I knew her, there were several school events that would have ignited at least a spark of enthusiasm in even the least spirited students. Kelly never participated or even seemed slightly interested in the hype. The only time I sensed that she felt connected was when she talked about ceramics class.
Because of her recent move and her past poor attendance in school, she had quite a mountain to climb in order to graduate. I was glad to be part of the team of people standing at the top of the mountain cheering her on, extending bottles of water to her, and throwing her ropes and hooks to ease her climb. We thought she could do it! Her effort was obvious, and Kelly did everything we asked. I don't know any of the details of her conversation with her guidance counselor before she signed the official papers to withdraw from school. I doubt her decision was sudden. Maybe she was just tired of the scenery on the high school path and opted for another. Kelly's departure caused me to think about the ways that people "drop out" every day. People drop out of friendships, marriage, and jobs all the time. People drop out of visible and invisible places and situations because they get tired or lose hope or inspiration. Like Kelly's choice, dropping out may not always be a good decision, but it is often the best decision. Nevertheless, one of the most damaging results of dropping out is the loss of a connection. Feeling connected is one of the pillars of our emotional health. Feeling connected to someone or something means we matter. Kelly's life had been punctuated by movement that most likely caused more broken connections that is normal for a person her age. As much as I wish that she had said goodbye and maybe found a way to stay connected, I know that keeping in touch wasn't likely or even realistic. I am glad, however, that she made her decision with her counselor who stood with her on the front line of change and helped her to envision a brighter way.I hope Kelly knows her teachers' desire for her to do well is a thousand times greater than whatever disappointment we may feel about her decision to leave. I hope that she finds the peace and purpose that the high school environment just couldn't provide for her. Mostly I hope that she finds a fresh new mound of clay somewhere in the world so that she can stay connected and keep creating and creating and creating.