When you walk into the room at CASE, you’d probably see what I see: a roomful of kids with diverse backgrounds and varying needs. Some are literally bouncing around the room, exploding with all of the pent-up energy from sitting at a desk all day. Some come in with their heads down, defeated after a rough day at school. Some arrive yelling over top of one another, competing for everyone’s attention. Some are completely silent.
The kids that we teach face innumerable challenges. They range from poverty to academic issues, bullying and peer pressure to broken homes and absentee fathers. The weight of the issues they face is heavy, though unspoken. Often, it only manifests itself in their lack of confidence and motivation, eruptive anger and poor attitudes. As staff, we don’t always know what’s causing our students to act out. Even if we do know, it’s often outside of our control.
In light of all these issues, you, like me, may find yourself wondering how much good we can do in just a few hours, a few times a week. It’s a good question. According to John Hopkins researcher Dr. Robert Balfanz, in high-poverty schools, if a sixth grade child attends less than 80 percent of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75 percent chance that they will later drop out of high school — absent effective intervention.
What is the effective intervention? According to Balfanz, it’s “an adult counter force, they need another adult or several adults in the students’ lives who every day is reminding them in simple ways that schooling leads to a good future and you could succeed in school.” This is where CASE succeeds. We have the ability to show a genuine interest and care for our students. We can be a positive adult influence who encourages, believes in them, and gives them hope for their future.
Working with these students, I’m often thinking about Mark 9, where the disciples are unable to heal a seizing boy. But when Jesus comes on the scene, he looks at the disciples and calls them faithless. The boy’s father turns to Jesus and says, “please, if you can do anything, have compassion and help us.” And Jesus responds, “All things are possible for one who believes.” I never want to be someone who looks at one of these kids without the kind of faith that Jesus possesses in that moment. I always want to see these kids with an unwavering faith that believes healing is possible and in turn, be a faithful participant in that process.
The C.A.S.E. program at Dupont Hadley Middle Prep is a program of the Nashville After Zone Alliance. The Nashville After Zone Alliance is a network of coordinated after school programming for Metro’s middle-school students. NAZA is a partnership among the Nashville Public Library, MNPS, and other existing youth-serving groups. It is modeled on successful efforts in other cities and is organized around geographically-defined zones.