Archive for the 'Counseling and Human Services' Category

Culture and How It Creates Us

cultureBy Sabrina Bartels

During one of my PBIS meetings, I was able to get a little insight into culturally responsive practices. These practices ask educators to examine their own culture and how it shapes their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. While this topic in general fascinates me, I was really intrigued by one of the activities that we did.

The facilitator of this discussion asked all of us to write down – in one minute – what our culture was. As everyone put pen to paper, I remember staring at the blank sheet in front of me. My culture? There were so many things that fit my culture. What exactly did he want? My nationality? The culture I most identify with?

For me, going through culturally responsive practices training is a little awkward. Part of it is because I am one of the few minorities on staff; part of it is because I view culturally responsive practices in a slightly different light. For me, my culture is a glaring obvious part of my life, and yet, it is also a huge question.

I was raised “American.” Or, to be really specific, I was raised to be a true Wisconsin girl. I say “bubbler” and think cheese curds should be a major food group. Every Sunday, it’s hot ham and rolls while watching the Packers take on their latest opponent. I know how to tailgate with the best of them, and I know that really good tailgates usually involve beer-boiled brats (and of course, it’s Miller beer that we use) cooked on a charcoal grill. It’s “soda,” not “pop.” I can say Milwaukee, Oconomowoc, and Ashwaubenon with minimal difficulty (and yes, I could spell all of those without looking them up.) I can whip up a brandy old-fashioned if anyone asks, I eat custard and cream puffs, and I’ve seen a cow in real life. Most importantly, I know how to polka and, in fact, requested that one be played at my wedding.

However, you could argue that I do not look like a Wisconsin girl. I am 100% Korean, and was adopted when I was a baby. I do not look like my German/Polish/French/Welsh parents, a fact that used to lead to a lot of embarrassing interactions between my friends and parents.

Friend: Who are those people?

Me: Um, those are my parents …

Friend: But you don’t look alike!

Me: Well …

My parents have always encouraged me to explore my Korean side, and in some ways, I have. I participated in both traditional Korean dance and Korean drumming from the time I was seven until I was well into high school. We would drive up to Minnesota in the summer for a Korean Culture Camp, which exposed me to the language and history of Korea, as well as take classes on self-esteem for Korean-American adoptees. My family has constantly worked to integrate my Korean side into my life: my mom has learned how to make traditional Korean food, my dad is a chopsticks champion, and both did their best to get me involved with learning the Korean language. While I embrace being Korean, I can honestly say it doesn’t guide my life the way my “Wisconsin” culture has.

So which culture should I identify with? Is it wrong of me to identify with just one? Both? None at all?

And I think about how it must be for our students. If I, as a 28-year-old adult, struggle to define what my culture is, I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for our 12, 13, 14-year-old students.

Let me give you an example. I have a student who does not believe that education is necessary. According to her, mom only finished high school, and dad never passed middle school. Both parents have jobs and can provide for my student. In their household, swearing is a part of normal conversation.

For my student, who has grown up believing that education is not as crucial, it is a struggle when she comes to school. She often sleeps through class and refuses to do her homework. Swear words have a habit of sneaking into her daily vocabulary, which irritates a few of her fellow students. When I talk to her about her attitude or behavior, she is confused as to why she is in trouble. She explained that mom and dad never went to college and are doing fine; she says that mom and dad swear often in the household, and that she, as a result, does too. And then I talk to her about why we are making her do her homework and stay awake in class. We talk about how some sort of higher education is important, maybe more important than it was back when her parents were in school. We talk about how swearing is not appropriate in school, whether it is casual or whether it’s provoked. And we find out how our cultures differ in this regard, because while she listens and asks questions, I can’t guarantee that she’s going to change. And, to be honest, she may not want to … and there isn’t anything wrong with it.

But here is this student who, every day, is forced to wrestle with the culture that she has grown up in versus the culture of the school she attends. They are drastically different. Which is right? Is one right? Is one wrong? And which one wins in the end?

I remember the movie “Freedom Writers,” where some of the students told their teacher that their goals for their future were drastically different than the ones she had. She imagined them graduating from high school, from higher education, of them doing something with their lives. For her students, their idea of “graduating” was living through each day, as they encountered gang-riddled neighborhoods and violence every day of their lives. That lesson wasn’t lost on me. For some of my students, getting an education is the ultimate goal. For some students, the ultimate goal is just surviving each day.

And this is why culturally responsive practices are so critical for everyone to engage in. Our culture makes us who we are. I may identify with two cultures, but both have influenced me to become the woman I am today. The same can be said for our students. How they view the world, how they view education, and how they view their futures may be different than what we imagine. But by engaging in culturally responsive practices, we are opening our eyes to the cultural conflict our students may be experiencing, and learning how we can engage our students with open minds … and open hearts.

Stress Related to Immigration Status in Students: A Brief Guide

This brief guide is designed to provide an overview of detention, deportation, and other immigration status-related stress and its effect on children and families, as well as suggestions for how school personnel can support families in the context of this unique stressor. Please note that the information included in this document was obtained from published reports as well as suggestions from mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff. It is our hope that others might contribute to this guide; in this way it can be a dynamic compilation of practical ideas to support our community members.

Lisa M. Edwards, PhDDepartment of Counselor Education & Counseling Psychology, College of Education, Marquette University

Jacki Black, MA EdAssociate Director for Hispanic Initiatives, Marquette University

 

The Context of Immigration Stress

 There are more than 11 million individuals residing in the U.S. without legal authorization from the federal government. While the total number of unauthorized or “undocumented” immigrants in the U.S. has remained stable since 2009, there has been a rise in K-12 students with at least one undocumented parent. In 2014 estimates suggested that 7.3% (or about 3.9 million) K-12th grade students in U.S. public and private schools were children of unauthorized parents.1 The vast majority of these children (3.2 million) were U.S.-born, and therefore are citizens. These children are members of “mixed-status families,” or households in which at least one member is a citizen or legal resident and at least one is not.

The context of having a parent, sibling or relative without documentation, or not being documented oneself, is a unique stressor that cannot solely be understood as generic stress or trauma. Families with members who are undocumented often “live in the shadows,” experiencing a lack of safety and fear of deportation. Because of their relationship with students and families, teachers, counselors, and other school personnel are often on the front line of dealing with mental health concerns as they arise, and should be well-informed about the challenges that immigration status issues may present.

How Detention and Deportation Affects Children

Over the past eight years, 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants were deported, not including those who “self-deported.”2 These deportations not only affect the individual, but can also have devastating consequences for families.

A growing body of research suggests that children who experience the detention and deportation of a parent suffer from many short and long-term mental health effects, including loss of appetite, changes in sleep (e.g., nightmares), crying, clinginess, and feelings of fear. Additionally, these children can later exhibit PTSD-like symptoms, including anxiety, withdrawal, and anger/aggression, as well as academic declines at school (for a summary report about the psychosocial impact of detention and deportation see: Brabeck, Lykes, & Lustig, 2013).

In two reports about the direct effects of detention and deportation on families, researchers identified these key findings related to mental health:3,4

  • Children experienced “a pervasive sense of insecurity and anxiety,” which led to mental health concerns such as separation anxiety, attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • In some cases, children didn’t know their parents were being deported and therefore felt their parents had suddenly “disappeared.”
  • Family members often had difficulties communicating with parents who were detained due to distance, rules and costs of communication, which exacerbated the emotional harm to children.
  • Spouses and partners of detained parents reported struggling with social isolation and depression after the detention, which likely negatively affected their children.
  • When parents, who are typically fathers, were detained, there was substantial financial hardship and stress on the family. This hardship often led to caregiving and housing instability for children.
  • The negative emotional, financial and housing effects led to declines in school performance for many of these children.

Toxic Stress: How the Threat of Detention and Deportation Affects Children

The stress related to detention and deportation not only affects those who have experienced the detention of a parent or those who are undocumented. For example, research suggests that children who are aware of the threat of deportation or who have undocumented parents have higher levels of fear and anxiety, as well as disrupted sleeping and eating.5 Other studies have shown that the threat of deportation negatively affects children’s grades and leads to more students missing school and changing schools.5,6 Additionally, deportation-related stress may in fact spill over to legal residents who experience discrimination and may fear for the future of themselves or their children.7,8

The notion of toxic stress provides a useful framework for understanding how the threat of detention or deportation can negatively affect the physical health, emotional well-being, and educational performance of youth. Toxic stress is the stress from prolonged exposure to serious stress that can harm developing brains and result in psychological, biological and neurological changes.9 In essence, this means that children with knowledge about the potential threat of deportation may be living in a constant, heightened state of anxiety which does not allow the body to return to baseline functioning. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in support of protecting immigrant children against the negative effects of the toxic stress of living in fear of deportation since this type of stress can disrupt a child’s developmental processes and lead to long-term concerns.10

This toxic stress may be intensifying in the current political climate. Over fiscal year 2016, 92% of those deported from the interior of the U.S. had previously been convicted of a crime.2 Following the new administration’s directive to define deportable offenses more broadly, however, many unauthorized immigrants who previously had not been considered high priority targets may now be at greater risk for immigration enforcement action. In the first major immigration strike under the Trump presidency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched coordinated raids in at least 12 states, resulting in over 680 detentions of “criminal aliens” – now defined as any unauthorized immigrant – over the course of one week.11 The current administration has also repeatedly called into question the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—President Obama’s executive order providing temporary relief from deportation action for many undocumented youth, heightening the uncertainty and anxiety felt by these “DREAMers.”

Behavioral/Emotional Signs of Immigration Status-Related Stress in the Classroom:

Though every child is different, those who have directly experienced the loss of a parent to deportation or those who are coping with the threat related to documentation status may show some of the following signs in the classroom:

  • Acting withdrawn—appearing disconnected from life; pulling away from activities and relationships
  • Hyperarousal – nervousness, jumpiness, hypervigilance about surroundings
  • Difficulties focusing in schools, learning or memory problems, and decreased school performance
  • Externalizing symptoms – aggressive behaviors, temper tantrums, excessively seeking attention, etc.
  • Somatic complaints (e.g., stomach aches, headaches, fatigue)
  • Regressive behaviors in young children (e.g., accidental daytime wetting or reports of bedwetting)
  • Crying, sadness
  • Fears of being separated from caregivers or family (e.g., not wanting to come to school)
  • Acting nervous, anxious or fearful, avoiding certain activities
  • Poor appetite or digestive problems
  • Poor or disrupted sleep

How School Personnel Can Support Students in the Classroom:

  • Be observant and establish trust. If a student is exhibiting some of the aforementioned behavioral or emotional signs of distress, do not assume the cause and do not put students on the spot by asking them directly. Rather, create an environment in which students feel safe, providing opportunities for them to disclose their stressors. Be an active listener to see what a child might need.
  • Be patient. Some students may exhibit behaviors and emotions that you have not seen before. Consider this when enforcing rules and other disciplinary actions.
  • Be willing to talk. When students reveal immigration status-related issues, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Some students may talk openly about their fears and anger, and many may have questions. Don’t hesitate to answer questions as honestly as you can, and let students know when you aren’t sure. For younger children, be sure to use language that is understandable and that does not cause more fear; young children may not be able to fully comprehend what has been happening or why they feel anxious or stressed.
  • Recognize the importance of language. Teachers and other school personnel should be sensitive in their use of language, favoring terminology such as “undocumented/unauthorized immigrants” and making known that use of the terms “illegals” or “illegal immigrants/aliens” will not be tolerated in their classrooms. “Illegal alien” is not a legal term and is not an accurate descriptor as the status of being present in the U.S. without a visa is not actually a criminal violation. More importantly, these terms can have a dehumanizing impact by effectively rendering the individual and their entire existence as “illegal.”
  • Show your support. Teachers can demonstrate their support through images showing that they are allies. For example, this painting by Favianna Rodriguez has become symbolic of the DREAMers movement:

favianna-welcome-dreamers4

By displaying this on a white board or desk, students are more likely to know that you are a “safe” person with whom they can discuss their immigration status–related stress.

  • Communicate with your colleagues. Inform school staff (e.g., counselors, social workers, administration) regarding what you are seeing in the classroom so that appropriate services can be developed and needs can be addressed.
  • Take care of yourself. Seeing the stress that your students and their families are facing can be overwhelming. Find ways to relieve stress and get the help that you need, too.

How Schools Can Support Students and Families:

  • Set a tone of safety and respect.
    • Make your school a “safe space” through public statements of support such as this one from the Minneapolis school board that reaffirms every child’s right to an education. These statements are most effective when grounded in the vision, mission, or stated strategic plan goals of the school or district, and should include language around creating a safe, welcoming environment for all students.
    • Be aware of the peer dynamics in your school environment. Deal directly with any derogatory language or behaviors from peers that are rooted in condescending attitudes towards immigrants and use these as teachable moments.
  • Share accurate and helpful information.
    • Assure students that any information the school has about a student’s immigration status is protected through FERPA; the only way the federal government can obtain immigration status information from school officials is through a warrant or subpoena signed by a federal magistrate.
    • Inform students and their families of these rights, resources, and recommendations from the National Immigration Law Center and/or distribute “know your rights” cards which provide simple but important tips for how to respond to encounters with ICE agents.
    • Be proactive and hold meetings for families who may have questions. Consider bringing legal experts and other social service programs to present about relevant topics.
    • Remember that some parents may keep their children at home if there are threats of deportation raids in the community. Research also suggests that Latina/o children and families may have a distrust of authorities, sometimes conflating police with ICE officials.12,13 This may be especially true in localities that have engaged in 287(g) agreements with ICE, which deputize local law enforcement officers as arms of the federal government. As of the writing of this article, there are 38 such law enforcement agencies that have been delegated this authority14 but new immigration directives from the Department of Homeland Security have called for the expansion of this program.15 Stay informed on the situation in your community and be sensitive to parents’ fears.
  • Provide direct support and start a referral list.
    • Arrange counseling for students, or if necessary, provide appropriate referrals. Learn about the trusted social service agencies, legal supports, churches or religious organizations and other resources in your area. Collaborate with these agencies so that you can feel confident in your referrals, especially given that some families will be hesitant to access services or may not be eligible.
    • Adolescents may also appreciate the opportunity to discuss their stressors with peers in similar situations through discussion circles and support groups.
  • Encourage advocacy.
    • Adolescents and young adults may feel empowered and gain access to valuable support and resources by volunteering for advocacy organizations. Create space for students’ civic engagement through supportive school policies.
  • Stay informed and educate your faculty and staff.
    • Administrators should take responsibility for staying informed about changes in policies and laws regarding immigration and deportation. For example, a policy memorandum by ICE in 2011 established that agents are to refrain from enforcement actions (e.g., raids) at certain ‘sensitive locations’ such as schools and universities, hospitals, churches and other places of worship, funerals/weddings, and public demonstrations such as marches or rallies. It is possible that this policy memorandum may be reversed; therefore, school leaders should remain informed about possible changes.16
    • Provide professional workshops for school personnel around the challenges that students who are undocumented or who have undocumented family members face, the protections around student information provided by FERPA, the legal limits of what ICE can and cannot do, and creating culturally competent and responsive classroom environments.

Schools may not be able to address the root causes of immigration status-related stress for the children they serve, but through increased awareness, proactive policies, displays of support, and providing access to information and resources, they can do their part to live their mission of supporting our community’s students and families.

Resource Guides for Schools

 Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff – American Federation of Teachers (2016)

https://firstfocus.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ICE-Raids_Educators-Guide-20161.pdf

This comprehensive guide provides information for school personnel about the rights of undocumented children and parents and how to respond to ICE raids. Specific materials are provided to share with families regarding their rights in the context of detainment or deportation.

Resource Guide: Supporting Undocumented Youth – U.S. Department of Education (2015)

https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/focus/supporting-undocumented-youth.pdf

This guide offers legal guidelines, practical tips, and resources for secondary and postsecondary institutions in fostering supportive environments and success for undocumented students.

References

 

 

 

Public Education- An Endangered Endeavor?

save our tudentsBy Dhanya Nair

Education, one of the most basic services that should be made available to children and youth by society, is often the cause of much debate and controversy. Providing quality public education is challenging, even in developed nations like the United States. However, the benefits of free k-12 education are immense and are often reflected in the quality-of-life of a nation’s citizenry. Political leadership has a direct influence on public education through funding and curricula. Having grown up in a nation where public schools lack funds and quality teachers, and where warring political parties propagate their viewpoints by altering textbooks, I feel strongly about the need for citizen-participation in matters of education.

Public education is meant to provide a level-playing field for children from different racial, socioeconomic and social class backgrounds. Education should be an equalizer, not the fiefdom of a select few. If the people making decisions about public education in this country or any other are not committed to achieving its actual goals, there is cause for concern. As a mental health professional, I interact to some extent with the urban school system in this city and within the scope of my limited interaction, the disparities between urban and suburban schools are clear to me. Inequalities are meted out regularly to those children who come from minority, low socioeconomic and low social class backgrounds. Common sense dictates that the achievement gap can be narrowed largely by affording equal opportunities to children cross this nation. However, it remains to be seen if new educational policies will bow to political ideologies or the best interests of students.

Dr. Bob Fox Honored at Community Engagement Symposium

adobe-spark-29

 

Dr. Bob Fox and Penfield Children’s Center were honored at the first Community Engagement Symposium held on Marquette University’s campus on November 15, 2016. The award for the Community Engaged Partnership Award recognizes a “faculty/community organization partnership that demonstrates excellence in respectful, bidirectional collaboration; makes a positive difference in the community; and enhances knowledge.”

Since 2003, the Behavior Clinic has served inner-city families with young children with developmental disabilities. Offering mental health services for children who are experiencing significant behavior and emotional problems, the Clinic also offers specialized training and supervised clinical experiences for graduate students. In addition, research in the clinic contributes regularly to the field of pediatric mental health.

Congratulations to the Behavior Clinic and Dr. Bob Fox, making a difference in the lives of Milwaukee’s youngest children.

 

What It Takes to be Smart

nerd-23752_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Question: Who is the smartest person out of the list below?

  • The President of the United States, Barack Obama
  •  Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
  • Astronaut Sally Ride (the first female astronaut)
  • Minecraft creator Markus Persson
  • World champion chess player Bobby Fischer

Thoughts?  I’ll be honest, I was torn between a couple of people. I always think people who play chess, like Bobby Fischer, must be intelligent. They plan out their moves carefully and well in advance. Then again, Markus Persson created an entirely new world on the computer. The President must be smart, because he has to make decisions that affect the entire nation. Astronauts have to be smart; think of all the calculations and data they must acquire! And think of all the routes, plays, and passes Aaron Rodgers has to memorize!

So who is the smartest?

I teach a lesson about multiple intelligences to my students every year in Career Pathways class, and it’s one of my favorites. I’ve learned that through the years, my students acquire a definition in their minds as to what it means to be smart. They then compare themselves to that definition. Some of my students are proud that when they compare themselves to their definition, they are smart. And some think about their definition, compare themselves to it, and conclude that because they are unable to do x, y, or z, they are “dumb.”

This is where the theory of multiple intelligences come in. It shows that there are several different ways that people can be smart. In Career Pathways class, we name eight specific intelligences:

–          Body smart (kinesthetic) – people who express themselves through movement; often have a good sense of balance and hand-eye coordination

–          Music Smart – may produce and appreciate music; often think in sounds, rhythms, and patterns

–          Nature Smart (naturalistic) – appreciate and are knowledge able about the natural environment; often have interests in animals, plants, and being outdoors

–          Number/logic Smart – people who use reason, logic, and numbers; often think logically and make connections between pieces of information

–          People Smart (interpersonal) – people who are able to relate to and understand others; often try to maintain peace and encourage cooperation

–          Picture Smart (visual spatial) – people who tend to think in pictures and enjoy creating visual images; often read maps, charts, and diagrams

–          Self Smart (intrapersonal) – people who try to understand their inner feelings, goals, strengths, weaknesses, and relationships with others

–          Word Smart (linguistic) – people who have highly developed listening skills and are generally good speakers; often enjoy reading and writing

We then have students take a mini quiz to find out which “smart” they are strongest in and discuss what that means. We talk about how we can use our smarts to our advantage and how that can help guide us down a career path that we are interested in.

It’s most refreshing to see my students who initially believed that they were “dumb” realize that they have definite strengths in certain areas. One student of mine, who always declared that she was “dumb” because she couldn’t do math well, felt better after realizing that her strength in art was considered a smart. My students who struggle with reading or writing suddenly have a new appreciation for their athletic and musical ability. Even I felt better after realizing that my ability to listen to and empathize with others is considered a smart, even if I struggled with math.

I encourage all of my students, and all of their parents, to check out what their “smart” is! It is not only a great self-esteem booster, but it helps everyone appreciate how we are each unique, different, and smart in every way!

To check out what “smart” you have, go to this link: http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-assessment. Once you finish answering the questions, it will bring up a chart with how you rank in the 8 different categories. Enjoy!

 

Trickle-down Privilege

bulldozer-1357600_960_720By Dhanya Nair

As I turned around a corner, I saw a lone seagull landing momentarily in the middle of an empty road, poised to take flight again. I also noticed a speeding car through the corner of my eye, and hoped the driver would slow down, as there was no traffic. But, to my immense horror, the driver crushed the bird and sped on. I paused and looked at that poor creature, it had no inkling its life would be snuffed out quite so suddenly. Roadkill is so common that we don’t spare a second thought for it. However, the dead seagull got me thinking about hierarchies in the world. As a mere bird, the poor gull had no moral authority over a human driving purposefully to some end. Its life was disposable and the motorist had exercised her/his human privilege by killing it.

Our ascendancy as humans over other species in this world is also a mark of our collective arrogance. The firm, unflinching belief that we matter the most. “Survival of the fittest” explains why we became the most dominant species, and we have used that theory to justify pseudo-meritocracies, colonialism, slavery, and pretty much any kind of exploitation and manipulation. As humans, we have decided who among our own gets the most and least amount of privilege; for instance, a citizen of a “First World” nation should have more privilege than a citizen of “Third World” nation. To me, it seems like the unwritten rule is for privilege to be trickle-down in nature. As humans, we are trained to conceptualize the world around us in the form of hierarchies and structures. It probably helps us navigate this immensely complex world in a relatively simple manner. Hence, the driver who killed the seagull was able to get to her/his destination without pausing to spare the bird’s life as she/he was secure in the knowledge that her/his moral right as a human was superior to the bird’s. The consequences of such automatic thinking make me shudder. Are we as humans condemned to bulldoze our way through the lives of some or the other creature or our fellow human beings?

How to be a Hero

superhero-296963_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Confession: I love football season. I don’t know if it’s because football usually means fall (my favorite season) or if my dad’s zealous attitude towards football has rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s a combination of both! Either way, I look forward to it. To me, a perfect fall day consists of football on TV, paninis on the stove, and a fire in the fireplace.

In addition to loving the sport of football, I love hearing some of the wonderful things football players do in their free time. I’m sure most people have seen JJ Watt on commercials for American Family Insurance, or have heard about DeAndre Hopkins donating school supplies to students in his hometown. For me though, the best thing I heard was about Florida State University football player Travis Rudolph.

If you haven’t heard the story, several FSU football players were visiting a middle school in Tallahassee. During the visit, Rudolph noticed a child eating by himself in the lunchroom. After grabbing food, Rudolph asked if he could sit with the student, who said yes. Someone snapped the photo of the two, and sent it to the boy’s mother.

Her Facebook post is inspirational and definitely tugs at the heartstrings. She started by saying:

Several times lately I have tried to remember my time in middle school, did I like all my teachers, do I even remember them? Did I have many friends? Did I sit with anyone at lunch? Just how mean were kids really?

She then talks about how her son is autistic. She said that while it can be overwhelming and scary to have him in middle school, she is sometimes “grateful” for his autism because it protects him from how harsh middle school can be.

He doesn’t seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn’t seem to notice that he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn’t seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It’s one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Finally, she talked about how she felt when she heard about Travis Rudolph eating lunch with her son.

A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player,” then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my son’s school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.

This made me smile for so many reasons. For the past few years, my school has been working on providing resources for students who are autistic. I have been working a little more closely with my students who have autism, and it has really opened my eyes to the struggles they have on a daily basis. Some students who have autism miss social cues. Some do not understand how to enter a conversation, or struggle to maintain a conversation. It breaks my heart when middle school students make comments or tease them, not knowing how hard it can be for them.

But it also made me smile because it showed how powerful one person can be. Just by sitting and eating pizza with a young boy, Travis Rudolph showed the world that he is a hero for more than just playing football. He is a hero for showing a little love and compassion to another human being. He is a hero for remembering what it’s like to be in middle school, and how harsh it can feel to not have anyone sitting with you.

So today, go sit with someone who is sitting alone. Reach out to someone who may not have a lot of friends. Do the right thing, and you can be a hero just like Travis Rudolph!

 


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