Shine Bright Like A Diamond

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So, I originally “wrote” this on February 5, 2015, by speaking it into my voice recorder 🙂 It was more like a recovery meeting in our blue room (a.k.a my Serenity Room) with me, myself, and I.  A few days later, I shared it with Jeff and a close friend. I wasn’t planning to share it on the blog any time soon because I’m easing into sharing the extra personal “stuff”.  

Then several weeks ago while I was picking Chelsea up early from school, I had the privilege of watching our elementary school’s Crisis Intervention Team respond to a student in need. First of all, let me say those ladies made running outside in cold, wind, heels & dress clothes look easy and GOOD!

Most importantly, though, I wanted to share that I was stopped completely still…in awe of and gratitude for everything our Brown Station Family is and does.

Day in.

Day out.

For each and every.single.one. of the children and families they serve.  So! I’m finally sharing a condensed version of my “speech” to and with myself this week in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week! 

Thank you, Brown Station, for always shining bright! With love, Kristin

“Keep coming back.  It works if you work it.  So work it, you’re worth it.”

recovery

This is one of the mottos in the Recovery Movement.  I find it upsetting that, for the most part, only the people who actively embrace and live a life of recovery get to know and experience this powerful truth.  

I had the blessing of learning about this while I was pursuing my professional career in social work.  During my graduate school courses, I took a course that focused on Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Recovery.  While the course focused on chemical abuse and dependency, I learned that recovery is not only for us addicts.

Recovery is recovery.  It is a way of life.  And, I would venture to say that most everyone reading this has something to recover from.  Within my immediate family, we are faced with opportunities for healing and recovery from the years of trauma the girls suffered and our secondary trauma as their caregivers, on a daily basis.  About 5 months ago, I had the privilege of completing a recovery-based program, and since then my family and I are finding ourselves living a life even more focused on active recovery.  We feel blessed to be living life through this perspective.  It is so clear, meaningful, and fun.  

Without our teachers and school staff, we would not be where we are today.  I feel like they model a recovery environment. They welcome each and every student back, work it, and teach these kiddos that they’re worth it. That they are worth a safe learning environment. One that fosters opportunities for social and emotional well-being in addition to academic achievement.  Afterall, it’s very difficult to learn when you aren’t well and whole. 

This morning served as a perfect example of this. The morning was full of violent outburts, rage, and aggression directed at me, the sisters, the dogs, and anything worth breaking in the house. Chelsea is going through a particularly intense season of processing her trauma and learning how to be a 10 year old daughter, sister, friend, peer, and student. Coping skills were only serving to escalate the situation and our psychiatric “rescue” medications designed for situations like this, weren’t having any noticeable affect. 

I knew I needed to get Shianne and Savanna to school and away from the crises. Our school is about a 2 minute drive, so I made the decision to pile into the car and make a run for it.  I was hopeful that we could do a quick drop off and that giving Chels full control of the radio might help. No such luck because as I went to open the door for Sav & Shi, Chelsea climbed out my front door and bolted into the middle of the car loop lane. At morning drop off time, which, if you’ve dropped kids off at school you know can be quite chaotic with cars in a hurry to get on with their day.  

Our angels were definitely looking out and put the perfect teachers in the perfect place at the perfect time. They were able to help me contain Chelsea and calmy restrain and guide her to a more private place where she could work through what she needed to. They called another team out to run the car loop and took the time to ensure that Chelsea was safe to get back in the car with me. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it was like most other morning drop offs when there are  student patrols helping with the carloop. 

It was fun. It was SO fun! And, SO beautiful. Our teachers embody recovery. They are partnering with each other and families to transform the trajectory of our children’s lives.  I’ve gotten to see this take place in several classrooms at our Title 1 school.  And now that I have two girls who have IEPs, I get the unique perspective of seeing it from the special education side.  Our teachers are doing it! Our principals are doing it! Our Crisis Intervention Team is doing it!  Our school administrative assistants are doing it.  Our PE, Music, and Art teachers are doing it. Our nurses office is doing it.  And although I haven’t yet gotten the chance to see this in action, I am sure that our instructional support, paraeducators, lunch, recess, and building management support staff are doing it, too. 

When my husband and I first moved here, we bought our house not knowing what the future of our familly held. We didn’t know I was going to need to have a hysterectomy and we cetainly did not know we’d end up having 3 school-aged girls. That definitely was not in any part of our plans. Needless to say, school districts were not on our radar. 

When the girls were first placed in 2010 and it became time to enroll them in school, several people asked me if I was going to apply for the special exception and have them attend Diamond.  I guess in our neighborhood, Diamond is perceived as its name suggests, particularly in comparison to Brown Station. I actually went to Diamond, but we were adamant that we would continue with enrollment at Brown Station. 

Brown Station is nestled, so safely, in a low-income neighborhood. Yes, it’s nestled. Lovingly nestled by the teachers and staff who are committed to the school and its students. Teachers and staff who have been there for 10+ years and have no intention of leaving.  They choose to continue to work in a building that is in need of a makeover – the heat and air conditioning system is all messed up and while other schools have been rebuilt or renovated, Brown Station has not. They’ve been promised a re-building for quite some time…but, nothing yet.  Those funds are likely being re-allocated to the schools deemed more worthy. I can’t think of one more worthy than Brown Station. 

It gets pretty hot, especially in the main office. So hot that when my husband walked into our IEP meeting the other day he thought I was going to pass out. He said to me later, “I walked in and knew you were either really angry at the meeting not going well or really hot.”  He quickly learned it was the latter.

Yup our Brown Station teachers and staff ARE DOING IT. Each day they come in ready to support, teach, have fun, and learn from their students! They work extra long hours because they believe they can make a difference in the lives of their students. Being a Title 1 school, many of the students have great needs which require more than the status quo. Add our 3 on top of that and we can attest to receiving way more than the status quo. The girls’ teachers have taken the stand and provided key testimony that changed the course of their cases for the better. Chelsea and Savanna’s kindergarten teachers still play important roles in the girls’ school days and they aren’t their current students. I often receive critical email updates from the girls’ teachers at all hours of the morning and night.  I could go on and on.  The bottom line is that, 5 school year’s later, Jeff and I are so glad we stuck with our home school. And words will never do justice to the gratitude we have for the impact these special teachers have had on the girls and our lives. 

I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the classroom teachers our girls have been blessed to have (I hope you all are okay with this :-))

Head Start:
Mrs. Halvorsen
Ms. Sharp
Kindergarten – 4th:
Mrs. Capellman
Ms. McNulty
Ms. Villani
Mrs. Taylor
Ms. Hammack
Mrs. Thumma
Mrs. Leakan
Ms. Cheung
PE, Music, Art:
Ms. Zimmerman
Mrs. Mikan
Ms. Siegalman
Ms. Smith
Special Education:
Mrs. Black
Mrs. Berkowitz
Mrs. Lechleider

And, the teachers that I know of from when Chelsea and Savanna were away:
Mrs. Ross (Resnick)
Ms. Levin (Sargent Shriver)

As I’ve spent time writing this, a Chinese Proverb I once heard came to mind. I think because too often people dismiss the work our teachers and support staff are doing. Too often those who are not doing it, don’t believe it can be done. 

 
So to all the amazing teachers out there, please continue using your experience, strength, and hope to reach and teach our children. I believe there is no greater time of need for you than NOW.  Thank you. 

P.S. if you would prefer your name not to be listed here, email me @ burningbrightle@gmail.com & I will take it off right away!! This post has been edited to add teachers from this school year as well as other Brown Station staff who have been instrumental in our lives. We are going through a bitter-sweet season of Savanna and Shianne saying “see you later” to Brown Station and “we’re here” to Great Seneca Creek, which has felt like home for Chelsea and now feels like home for Savanna and Shianne. 

P.P.S – when I first decided that I was going to post this essay several weeks ago, I wanted to find the perfect picture. I went through the girls’ first day of school pics from the last 5 years and none of them were doing it for me. So, I drove by the school and snapped this picture. I fell in love with it immediately! It reminds me of so many beautiful things. There is a little fleck of light that I couldn’t get out of the pictures and that was annoying me at first. But then as I showed Jeff, I realized, it is just like a diamond : -) so cool!
  

About Kristin Phoenix

daughter turned teacher turned social worker turned wife turned foster parent turned mom When people who don’t know our family story find out that we fostered and adopted the girls, we generally get one of two reactions…”I would have never known. They look just like you!” or “Oh, how beautiful.” Both of these things are 100% true – on the surface. The picture perfect, shiny, pretty surface. But, just below the surface is a whole lot of mess and brokenness. Our girls endured things that I never even read about in my textbooks. Our family endured things that go completely against the 3 philosophies of safety, permanency, and well-being that the child welfare system is in place to protect. When we have the chance to share a little bit more, the response always goes something like “but…how?!…and why?!” I believe in dreaming big. Part of my dream is a child welfare and healthcare system that would have prevented unnecessary trauma for my girls, my family, and our community. The other part is one of redemption and recovery for everyone involved in our story – which is everyone. I now believe part of why our family endured what we did is so that people would hear our story and ask the hard questions of how and why. With sexual abuse, trauma, foster care, and adoption, we never truly know until we find ourselves in a position of not knowing. Because of the nature of our case, I often found myself in a position of not being able to really answer the hows and whys. I reached a point where staying silent was the only option. Now that our adoptions are finalized, it is time for me to break the silence. This blog is me daring to run after my dreams – even when I find myself out of breath (which is mostly every. single. day.) It is stories of how the collective we have lived up to the Phoenix name and are rising from the ashes to burn bright! I also currently write and edit for Social Justice Solutions
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One Response to Shine Bright Like A Diamond

  1. Greg Williams says:

    Great post, Kristin. As a former active teacher, and still sometimes teacher, I appreciate your appreciation of what a beautiful ballet and well-oiled school can be in terms of taking care of kids and family needs. There are many forces at work to interrupt and make more difficult the work of teachers so it is always nice to see when one is working like it should. Glad you stuck with this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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