Lessons students have taught me….

Johanna - Phoenix, Arizona
Entered on November 10, 2008

This I believe….. I believe in the power of a child to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Recently, Barack Obama’s election to the presidency has instilled hope in millions of children that they can achieve anything they set their minds and hearts to. Race is no longer that insurmountable barrier, nor is poverty or coming from a single parent household. I believe, as do many Americans now, that children from any racial or ethnic background and any socioeconomic status can and will achieve greatness.

But my belief goes further than that, and this is where many might think I am stepping out on a limb. I believe in the power of schools and families to make those same opportunities attainable for one of our most challenging groups of students – students with emotional disabilities. As the principal of an elementary school in Arizona I have had the tremendous, life-altering opportunity to supervise our district-wide program for students with emotional disabilities. Through this experience, I have come to know hundreds of inspirational students with emotional challenges. They come from all races and income levels. Some were born with a disability due to substance abuse in the womb or a genetic disorder. Others have witnessed or experienced trauma to a degree that most adults can not even begin to understand. Nevertheless, they share one common attribute – they are all too young to carry the blame for their disability. They deserve our love and our unwavering commitment to make a difference in their lives.

I believe that these students can achieve whatever level of greatness to which they aspire. Recently, a fifth grader in our program asked me, “Is it true you went to Harvard? I heard Barack Obama went there.” Then he continued, ” I would like to go there some day.” I was so pleased to be able to genuinely support him in these attainable aspirations. If he continues on his current path, anything is possible. This student came to us in second grade, unable to read, with severely aggressive behaviors. Through the dedication, support and patience of a phenomenal team of teachers who have never given up on him, he is now reading above grade level, and mainstreaming regularly in general education classroom. This is just one of the many examples of students who have come to our program with seemingly insurmountable emotional and behavioral challenges who have gradually become fully mainstreamed into the general education program and are experiencing both academic and behavioral success.

This success is possible through the hard work and dedication of an incredible team of special educators, the openness of our general education teachers who welcome the students with emotional disabilities into their classrooms, the collaborative effort of parents, and most importantly the determination of our amazing students who face incredible challenges with courage and resilience. Through ongoing collaborative efforts and a commitment to the belief that these students can and will succeed, these students, too, can overcome their challenges to achieve greatness. This I believe.