In every single teacher meeting, I hear the Principal or Vice Principal of Arrupe deliver a heart-rending story about a student who has a drastically distracting and/or debilitating background. These anecdotes are usually used as motivators for continuing our (the faculty’s) meaningful efforts, despite the difficulty of working with teenagers. It’s a different story each time, but I almost never recognize the identity of the student to which they refer. As a result of the anonymity, I have so far been numb to these attempts at motivation. I know not ALL of the students have these problems, and therefore assume that none of those children which I work with are affected by poverty or a stressful home situation. They do not give me a reason to believe otherwise, after all. No child is very keen to bring up their brother’s illness or their impending eviction in the middle of math class.
The reality of some students’ lives simply did not enter my daily thoughts until I had the opportunity to go on a Kairos retreat about a week ago. After prepping with the student team in meetings for a few weeks, I thought I knew a lot about them. Going on the retreat, my sole role as an ASC volunteer was to perform the Night-Watch duty by staying up all night and making sure nothing went wrong (hanky panky being the main concern, I suppose). Therefore, I was not placed in a small group as an adult leader, nor was I to give one of the main talks. I was (in true ASC style) to perform any random tasks that needed doing, and to sleep during the day. Nevertheless, I was excited to be a part of something this special.
Who would have thought the retreat would give me an opportunity I didn’t even know I needed.
As I listened during the retreat, one after another, the talks delivered by the senior student leaders hit me like a ton of bricks. These young men and women whom I believed I knew pretty well surprised me with their passion, intensity, and most importantly, their stories. The things they have faced and continue to face in their 17 or 18 years, were more than I could imagine handling in a lifetime. However, each one of them approached these situations with maturity beyond their years and an outlook of openness and honest searching. I felt so deeply for these students who put everything they had into giving a part of themselves to the junior retreatants. I cried on our last day, knowing how much they had given. It was truly a beautiful thing.
A barrier I had built up was broken down that week. I guess someone can talk at you for years about starving children in Africa or what New Orleans was like after Katrina, but until you witness it yourself, the reality of it cannot be taken in. In those 4 days of Kairos, I was witness to the stories of the children that attend Arrupe. I heard from the personal mouths of hard-working and responsible students about the agonizing accounts, the resilience, and the strength that goes into being a teenager with more problems than you think you can handle. Now, I am beginning to take to heart what my Vice Principal and Principal talk about every teacher meeting. Now I am beginning to see my students a little better.