I am a psychiatric social worker in the Los Angeles Unified School District where I work in South Central and East Los Angeles alternative education schools. My students are teenagers who have re-entered the school setting to earn their high school diploma after being out of school for months and sometimes even years. Some of the issues that my students face are severe family problems, poverty, drug and alcohol usage, and at times being the primary breadwinner and caretaker in their families. For many, I am the first person they tell that they have been sexually abused, that they had their first drink at age eight or saw their step-dad hitting their mom. Many have been a direct witness to violence in their own homes and communities. Yet amidst all this pain, there is hope. It’s a belief that they carry inside when they return to earn their education after many people said that it would be near impossible to do. It is hope that they have when meeting with me that someone is listening and that someone cares; a hope that someone believes them and the hope that they won’t be judged for their lives and experiences. It is this hope that I try to nurture and encourage fully believing that they will be able to not only graduate, but also succeed outside of the school setting as responsible young adults.
This hope drives me to do this work. By listening openly and without judgment, I provide individual, family, and group counseling to help them to think decisions through thoroughly before making them and see the possible positive or negative consequences to these actions. I help foster their self-determination to make choices that are healthy and productive to themselves and the community. I try to guide my students to think critically, be open-minded and tolerant towards others as well as be able to articulate their viewpoints honestly with the hope of being heard and not judged.
My students are determined, caring, intelligent and sensitive youth who are about to become young adults. Of course, not all of them graduate. Some get incarcerated, become parents, or leave school to work full-time. Yet it is my hope for all my students that they will take what they have learned in their time back at school to help them make better choices for their future. Many of those that do graduate are the first in their families to earn their high school diploma and some will continue on to college. They are role models by going back to school earning their education, and moving forward with their lives to accomplish their dreams and goals. I admire and nurture the hope that they have in believing in themselves; their openness to really look at their lives and make healthy changes knowing that they have the ability to make those decisions. It is my goal to sustain that hope beyond graduation.
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