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Do schools matter when it comes to a child’s life or death?

I would like to agree with those who argue that the role of a school in a child’s life should not be overrated. But … the heartbreaking stories of Andrew, Susan, and Billy would prove us wrong.

The Past

Once upon a long, long time … when I was still a student myself … my classmate Andrew was one of those invisible students who came to class every day, did all of his work, and got pretty much all Cs. None of us fellow students really noticed that he was there.

Andrew died one of the most painful deaths imaginable. His stomach filled with alcohol, pills, and household poisons, 15-year-old Andrew tried to crawl towards a phone to call for help – but never made it.

Susan was a popular and well-liked 13-year-old girl from a rather affluent family attending a private school nearby. After her suicide jump from a driving train, nobody understood why such a beautiful girl would take her own life.

After Billy, 17, hung himself, his classmates and his teachers all had the same reaction. Why?

Looking Back

After having spent 30+ years of my life as an international and intercultural counselor, teacher, local support group counselor, private school director – and having worked with thousands of students – the answer to why Andrew, Susan, and Billy chose to end their life comes down to one reason – the feeling of not belonging.

Because of his parents’ divorce and frequent relocation, Andrew had been to so many schools that he never had a chance to belong. A psychiatrist attributed Susan’s death to her antidepressant medication and the increasing emotional disconnection from her peers and her family.

As for Billy, he left behind an uncharacteristically long letter describing his feelings of alienation with a world into which he felt he did not belong. After his death, his parents found boxes of hidden journals and poems written by Billy.

The Present

Whenever we used to ask new incoming students to our Academy of Exploration International whether they would not miss their former school and their former classmates, the usual reply was, “I felt like I never really belonged there.”

Within a week of attending our Academy, all students were able to feel that they were now in a place that they belonged to.

That feeling of belonging has been the foundation for our students’ emotional, physical, and academic success.

The Future

After operating our small private school in San Diego for more than 20 years, the Academy is coming to an end. Most of our students have already graduated and are continuing on their life’s path.

No matter whether our students had to deal with emotional disabilities, dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD, ADHD, OCD, auditory processing disorders, or borderline autism, they all left our school with a sense of belonging — and a sense of purpose and destiny.

Despite their challenges (or most likely because of them), our students chose careers as lawyers, software engineers, entrepreneurs, veterinarians, architects, teachers, poets, writers, artists, a yoga master, and an ice-skating champion.

Even though the physical existence of our Academy is mostly completed, our mission “to make a difference in the lives of children, parents, and educators” continues online.

By providing news articles covering topics that affect the lives of students, we hope that parents and educators cannot only contribute to a child’s academic success — but also make a difference when it comes to matters of a child’s life or death.

 

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