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Change the heart

Change the person

A very shy, lonely girl entered my classroom several years ago having failed almost every class in fifth grade. She was almost retained, but the principal thought she might profit form my no putdown room environment. It was ironic that we had really neglected to help this girl who had been a putdown target for her first five years in school. Yet, we all know that often a child's last name, housing, social-economic level, and other unfair associations many times determine how a child is defended or offended in a school, especially a smaller populated school.

She came into the room with her head down and silently seated herself in the last seat, in the last row, trying to distance herself form her tormentors. She had no reason to think that this year would be any different than any other, and why would I help her anymore this year than in the past.

Realizing her fears, I sent her on an errand and I informed the other students that this was going to be the year that we no longer targeted this child. This was to be a truly no putdown year for this child. I placed her in the special seat for special students seat directly in front of my desk and treated her from day one as a very special person. With this real and sincere effort, as well as the many team builders incorporated into my classroom, she started trusting us and really started to improve both academically and socially. I fact, to the surprise of many, this very special child made the honor role the fourth and fifth grading periods. This year (2000-2001) she will enter eleventh grade and has not failed another subject since fifth grade.

This proved to me the power of establishing a put-down free learning environment. This young lady did not improve because I was a miracle teacher, but because the energy she was using just to survive was changed into positive energy where she could relax and learn in the classroom. It was then I truly discovered that the way to a child's brain was through the heart.

My wife and I have unofficially adopted this young girl and discovered that we truly are the only family she has ever really known. We have discovered that she never has known her biological father, even though she made contact with him and was rejected, with her grandmother throwing in the comment, "Leave it alone, you were an accident, can't you accept that?" She is verbally abused by both her mothers boyfriend and stepbrother, while living in a very small trailer in her one small bedroom which often serves as her refuge. Her mother works an afternoon shift and is in bed in the morning before school and working when she comes home from school. This should explain why she was a starfish that washed up on the shore of the Barger home, and had to be thrown back, and continues to need starfish attention.

This child was blessed by the starfish embrace of a wonderful teacher in the junior high who became a "starfish teacher" for two years. Every morning before school she would visit this teacher's room for much needed encouragement and help. This teacher as well as a peer leadership program truly saved this child. She is no longer targeted, and finds the support of other students so very important to her emotional and academic success. Her home life has changed little, but because of starfish people she is going to make it and is one the real heroes in my life.