This is the second in a series of blog posts written by Michigan Virtual’s Regional Mentor Leaders to bring to life what mentors do to build and maintain a supportive online learner environment to help students be successful. If you are a mentor and would like to share a strategy, a success story, or another topic that illustrates how you support students, please email [email protected].
When the request for a blog entry was first made, I thought, “Not me. I don’t have anything special to add.” I will be the first to admit I am horrible at sitting still long enough to write a blog — or much else for that matter. But I decided I would give it a try. Ideas went through my head relating to the topics given before I settled on one I felt drawn to the most: The student who made it anyway.
Last year I was working with a senior. This senior was in credit recovery for part of the year. She was managing to walk the fine line of frustrating all of her teachers and the administration and secretaries to the point where no one wanted to keep working with her. Her lies had burned too many bridges for her to understand that she was running out of time and support to make it through the year. To this day, I do not know what made me click with her. I do not know what caused it to be different when we worked together. All I know is that something clicked, and in the end, it all worked out.
During the first semester, “Shay” was in a credit recovery online class. She passed it easily when she sat down to do it. The material was much lower than her skills. Her attendance and follow through with the other criteria our school had was much harder for her. At the end of the first semester, she was on a contract to help stress the reality of her situation. She needed every credit second semester and needed to have her butt in a seat for her classes.
Shay was a girl who was easily making the “wrong” decisions her senior year. She missed school, was using alcohol and other substances on a regular basis, and there wasn’t positive support at home to help change this pattern. Due to how our schedule was set up, she ended up being in another online class for the second semester. This one was harder, but not over her abilities. After chasing her down again to get her re-focused on her class, she stopped in to see me at the end of the school day. “Don’t worry, I just turned in a bunch of assignments. I got caught up!” she hollered as she walked past my door. I had just done a progress check on students and knew she had done no such thing. I simply looked up at her and told her to stop the bull and that lies would get her nowhere. I used a plain spoken tone. No inflection, no anything. Then I went back to my computer screen. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her expression. She literally stopped walking, stopped moving, and tilted her head at me. After a very pregnant pause, she walked off to her next activity. Shay’s lying skills were well known in every office. Whenever she had to do something she didn’t want to, she had a bad habit of telling a lie to try and get out of it. I am a firm believer in second chances, but I stress to students that I don’t handle lies well. They can tell me bad news but don’t lie. I didn’t lecture her that day. I didn’t scold. I have learned from my own gaggle of children that that doesn’t work well. I just made a statement and left it at that.
The week ended with nothing new. By the end of the following week, Shay asked to stay after to work on her class in my office. As she stayed and worked on her work and me on mine, idle chit-chat went back and forth. At this point she didn’t need help in the class; she had learned how to use the Michigan Virtual system and knew what was expected of her. She shared comments about life in the senior class, which I was aware of, but she was discreetly passing along information that she knew my office should know. The next week came, and Shay bounded into me again to inform me that she had completed a bunch of her work and was on track. This time I could smile because it was true. For the rest of her time in my building, she continued to finish the class until it was time for graduation. She didn’t finish the class with a grade that truly represented her skills or abilities, but she did finish it. Herself.
When Shay walked across the stage at graduation and was returning to her seat, she stopped to give me a high five. I told her I was proud of her. She kept right on smiling. I don’t know what her future holds. I suspect there will be some major mountains and bruises. I do know that she still has the strength in her to do what is right. I hope that it will carry her through as she continues to “grow up” and take life’s adventure in rewarding directions. She is a very strong young lady; she just doesn’t know it yet.