Reflections on potential
During the Fall I piloted the program in a new school. It is a turn-around school, one that had been on the persistently failing, persistently dangerous list for many years. Over the last few school years, a very dedicated staff and principal have been pouring their heart into turning the school around. It’s working . . . and still it takes a lot of time for real lives to turn around and blossom.
These kids are facing so many challenging issues at home, in their neighborhoods, and with their extended families. Tough issues—weekly financial shortfall in home budgets, grandparents and cousins in weather-devastated areas who’d lost everything to extreme climate events, altercations at school, trouble with authorities, court hearings, and even gang violence.
Martin was one of the students in the Inner Strength Program. He had a small compact frame, tightly wound as if he could spring into flight at any moment. As a rule, he didn’t say much and mostly looked down at his shoes when he talked. Sometimes he’d show up to class with a black eye.
Martin was one of the deepest meditators I’ve come across in the classrooms. When he closed his eyes and sat still, his face took on a shine that comes from inner release. He had learned some basic mindfulness practices in an anger management program he’d been sent to. Rather than resenting the practice and rebelling against it, it struck a chord.
He loved the class. As the weeks went on, before and after class he’d share a little bit about himself. Not much but a little. Martin loved math, especially pre-calculus and wants to go on to higher mathematics. His calculus teacher had been shifted to another school due to some School District leveling, which requires a certain minimum number of students per class. It was a big disappointment and he was thrown back into a geometry program, a type of spatial-relations math he just didn’t have aptitude for. Problems at home and frustration at school started taking the forefront of his world.
I saw Martin less and less regularly. When he did come, his arms would be marked up with self-tattoos, applied with an indelible black Sharpie. “TRUST NO ONE” they would say.
“Why’d you draw on your cheek?” I asked.
“I was bored…”
I could see him spiraling into a morass of aimlessness and resignation. I started to work with him individually. A few special instructions here and there and then I’d leave him on his own. I could see, in spite of his current mindset, he has the potential to be a true mentor to others in the future. If Martin can attach his passions to something positive, learn how to rise above inner frustration, and make it through this adolescent stage, his accomplishments could benefit kids just like him.
Many of the issues that trigger Martin make sense. They are hard or unfair. In part, he is angry because he cares. But 15-year old boy with so much testosterone in his body and not enough guidance in his life walks a precarious line. Frustration can explode and squander his intelligence, aptitude, and interest. When I look at Martin, I see potential and a gift in the raw. Inner Strength has the capacity to turn that potential into actuality. With time, and hard work.
I asked Martin if he wanted to be a mindfulness leader. He looked at me trying to figure out if I was making fun of him. I told him I was serious. I showed him Noah Levine’s website and told him the story of how Noah went from a life of rebellion to his current work as a mindfulness teacher for youth-at-risk. He took one look at a photo of Noah’s tattooed hands and leaned in. Then I described what I was thinking. I told Martin he’d have to work hard, and I offered to work with him so over time he could have something to give.
We made a plan for the time over Christmas break: when he would practice, for how long, and a list of online resources. We made a plan for Martin to continue his pre-calc studies and track to become an engineer using resources from the Khan Academy, a free online learning center funded by Microsoft.
Martin and I have two and a half more years to work together. I’ll see him next week when I go back to check in at the school before our program starts for the Spring.
The support people like you have given to Inner Strength is making it possible to let diamonds in the rough shine. Thank you.