"Good Morning!" the cheery voice of the dorm leader greets you, but you're anything but pleased. It is 6:15 Wednesday morning, and you think to yourself, "Oh damn!" Maybe the mornings aren't so cheery, but once the hot water hits you in the shower, you realize you have a lot to do today, and not much time to sulk about it. And anyway, why sulk when you have the option of enjoying yourself? The fact is that life at The Family School can be enjoyable for a bunch of drug-abusing, defiant, and disinterested teenagers, and that is something of a miracle.
One of the major reasons kids are sent here is because they couldn't survive in their home and school environments, but The Family School is not very different from home. It's actually very similar.
We do chores around the "house": we set the tables, help prepare the meals, wash the dishes, do the laundry. We go to class. We do our homework during study halls and in the time allotted after school so we can be prepared for class the next day. We carve wood, paint, sing, dance, play, write, take pictures, feed the lizards. We do the things we're supposed to, and it gives us a satisfaction we didn't have when we were running our own lives. Doing the right thing makes us feel good, and for the first time in a long time we feel like we've accomplished something.
This isn't to say that we have a perfect student body. We aren't "ideal" teenagers with no problems. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Paul, a three-sport star athlete, was kicked off the basketball team during his senior year for not standing up for the principles he said he believed in. Paul was eighteen and could have left the school, but he would have ruined his dreams of playing sports in college, along with any chance of staying a sane and sober human being. Instead of giving up everything he achieved so far, he stayed and worked through his hard time with a lot of help from staff and the rest of the students. Because he persevered, Paul will walk across the stage in June and receive his high school diploma.
Paul's experience is a dramatic one, but there are many exchanges, events, conversations that occur throughout the day that are worth taking a look at. The following are a few snapshots of our experiences, little vignettes of life as a Family School student.
It's fun sitting at the table, surrounded by your friends in sobriety, cracking jokes on each other. Bryan and Leah always go at it. Leah keeps mentioning the time Bryan ran away and got sprayed by a skunk, but Bryan can't seem to lay off Leah's experience of tripping over a picnic table on her way to jumping in the pond in the middle of winter. Leah's response is usually to pretend she's mad, but Bryan says something else to her, and she giggles to redeem him. Although some people might be quick to jump on the situation and label it as flirtatious and scandalous, it is also true that real friendships develop along the same lines. We, along with Bryan and Leah, take our joking at face value.
In math class, if Jenna has a bad face on, Pete J. stops the class to help her through it. Sometimes she comes in mad, or resentful, or just plain fed up with life, but Pete always has an answer to her frown. She isn't the happiest about his questioning, but she expresses her gratitude to the other students when the class is over.
Heather, who has only been here for two weeks, was having a hard time the other day. As she and her buddy Erica walked down the hallway, Heather stopped in her tracks because she couldn't control her tears. Without words, Erica offered the condolence of a hug. So there they stood, in the middle of the hallway, in an embrace that no one could, or would want to, disrupt.
When the weather begins to turn warm, our English teachers take us outside for a little creative writing activity. We have a choice of seating: in the grass, on a picnic table, or on the dock by the pond. From there we ascend into poetry heaven, describing all of the sights, sounds, and smells of our surroundings. We don't write poetry often, but when we do, it's an experience that we cherish (not to mention an opportunity to be outdoors instead of cooped up in a stuffy room).
The first Living Skills class I walked into had a mixed bag of senior members, middle-of-the-roaders, and defiant new kids (me being one of them). The teacher would get the class's attention with his personal experiences and his boisterous jokes. But Living Skills wasn't a screw-around class. The objective was to actually teach the students how to live well---something we obviously didn't know how to do since we ended up here.
Regardless of how long we've been at the school, we see occurrences like these happen each day. We're not always aware of them, but we're usually lucky enough to catch some of these moments and reflect on them. These experiences shape the way we love, laugh, help, share, and do what we know is right.