The following story was written during a recent weeklong training with the University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education.
My first night out of the police academy my Field Training Officer and I arrested two teenagers for theft. After talking with the kids’ guardian on the phone at the station, we decided to drive them home instead of booking them. The guardian who met us in the front yard was mother to one of the boys and aunt to the other. She had just gotten off her night shift, and she was tired. She expressed her frustration and how she’d exhausted all the resources at her disposal for keeping her son and nephew off the street at night while she worked. As we drove away, I remember her standing alone on the front lawn.
I’d been having doubts about being a police officer since the academy, but it was that moment I decided I didn’t want to be in law enforcement anymore. I wanted to be on the other side of a young person’s choice. In other words, I wanted to be there before the mistake. I wanted to help. So seven months after that night, I entered the field of education.
It has been over fifteen years since my days as a police officer, and I’ve come to realize in order to help students achieve their potential, they must be given what they need to be successful. This includes physical safety, emotional support, access to appropriate curriculum, and quality instruction that engages students in their own learning.
Those two junior high boys from fifteen years ago were in my classes all nine years while I taught 7th and 8th graders. They had different names and backgrounds, but their stories were similar, and I hope I helped them improve their trajectory through life. I see those students at Loudon Elementary where I’m currently principal. I see the innocent faces of children who have their whole lives ahead of them. They’re standing at the beginning of a long corridor, and every door is open. Those children deserve adults who will hold the doors so every opportunity is possible. If a door shuts, we must hand the student the key and tell her she can do it. She’s got this. The world is yours. Bust it open. Make it better.
I want to meet that mother raising those children. I want to see her on her front lawn and tell her she should be proud. Her children have arrived.