My hand hovered over the letter, not quite knowing what to say. What do I write to a junior in high school when I haven't seen her in ten years? What do you say to someone who you taught to read in the beginning of their school career when there was still time and promise? What do you say when you've heard that they are contemplating dropping out of high school?
When I first ran into my former student I was so excited. It was wonderful to see one of my former students all grown up. But then I heard that she wanted to drop out of school and my heart sank. Much like when I found out that one of my former students was pregnant, I experienced a devastating sense of failure and helplessness. Failure as a school district and as a society. Helplessness of putting so much into a student so early in their school career only to have it end early, without that diploma that can open so many doors.
After great advice from a colleague I wrote about how proud I was of her, how exciting it was that she just had one more year to go, and how great it was that she could be a role model for her brother. I don't know if my words will mean anything or whether she'll find even find the letter in her brother's back pack. I want to go back in time and hug that little six year old girl and tell her over and over again how capable she is and how we can do hard things, even when it doesn't it doesn't seem possible. I want to go back and teach harder, get her reading stronger, push her more.
I'll spend spring break thinking about her and kids like her. What more can we do in the early years?