Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sharing our stories

On February 11, I published a blog post about my story.  I told of the forms that abuse took in my former marriage.  Recent events in the press were so distressing that I felt that I needed to write about my experience, even if I never published.  But publish I did, and the response has been overwhelming.  Less than a week later, the shooting at Parkland occurred.  Our attention turned from domestic violence to gun violence and many stories were not told.

In the first 24 hours since I published my story, I read numerous comments from friends and others who had similar stories.  I also heard stories from my life that were upsetting but also underscored my truth.  So many stories from both women and men that are heartbreaking in their similarity to mine.  I've heard from sisters, brothers, parents, friends and survivors alike who all tell about the many facets of abuse.  Some friends told me that they were overcome with tears upon reading my story and that it brought back memories that they had repressed from their own lives.  Many said "Thank you." and told me that it was comforting to know that they were not alone.  I cannot decide if it is reassuring that we are not alone or if it is disturbing that we are not alone but I do know that these behaviors are more common that we we want to believe.

Talking and writing about abuse is uncomfortable.  It is painful.  It is embarrassing and often shame-filled.  But we must share our stories if we want to take back our power.  I support the #MeToo movement along with the #TimesUp movement.  It often takes a person of some degree of celebrity to bring an injustice to the forefront.  But more importantly, we need stories from real people.  We need to hear from people who are not celebrities.  We need the raw stories.  The painful stories.  The success stories and the stories of struggles that continue.  We need a vehicle to let others like ourselves know that they are not alone and we will not tolerate this hidden epidemic anymore.  

This is why I ask that you tell your story.  Tell your sister's story, your mother's story, your friend's story.  Tell it honestly.  Tell it in all its raw emotion.  If you, or your heroine wants to remain anonymous that is ok.  But tell it.  It is the best way to take back your power.  

Share your stories on Facebook and Twitter.  Use #MyStory.  Or, if you want to remain anonymous, send them to me.  I will share them for you and keep your name private if you would like.  If you just want to tell your story and keep it private, that is ok too.  Know that you are not alone.  You don't have to be famous to tell the world that you have had enough.  We can create change from the ground up.  

Send your stories to:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Can We Talk?

Can we talk?  Can we be honest here?  Can we be the adults in the room?  Because we owe at least that much to the kids.  So let's have an honest conversation about what is happening in the wake of Parkland.

First of all, the conversation about arming teachers is an intentional distraction.  Let's call it what it is:  The ramblings of a crazy old man who latched on to a talking point that he heard from somebody while he tuned in momentarily.  The media ran with it and actually gave it a life that it should never have had, as did he.  The more he talks about it, the crazier his word salads become.  Because folks... IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  Seriously.  For several reasons including cost and logistics.  Let's think about it for a moment.  Public schools have been on austerity budgets for years.  Many public schools are dependent upon their tax base for funding which has left them with little to no extra funds.  We are still grappling with oversized classes, limited technology and resources, cuts in both teaching and administrative personnel along with cuts to services for students in need, along with aging physical structures just to name a few issues.  Additionally, we are facing a serious nationwide teacher shortage and can barely find substitutes for when we are out sick with the flu much less if we need to take time off for handgun qualifications. 

The logistics alone are mind-boggling.  You don't just put guns in a place where there are children.  Where do you keep the gun?  What happens if a child gets a hold of a gun?  How about a student who is having a meltdown and grabs a gun?  What about having a teacher with a handgun vs. an armed gunman with an AR-15?  That is not going to end well for the teacher.  Who is responsible if a teacher shoots a child accidentally?  What if the police shoot the armed teacher?  How do we decide who is armed?  Define "only the best" please.  Is there a rubric for that? There are far more questions than answers for this issue.

Also, consider this:  Many public schools are unionized.  Do you think that the unions would ever allow this?  AFT and NEA have already stated that this is not something they support.  As a condition of employment, this is a no brainer.  How many teachers went into teaching thinking they may have to become firearms qualified to achieve tenure?  Teachers are not law enforcement.  Our job is to teach not provide security.  Teaching is complicated enough without adding another layer of responsibility.

The only ones who benefit from arming teachers are gun manufacturers.  That's it.  Of course that is what has Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos both salivating over and whispering in the President's ear about.  Similar to privatizing public education and syphoning all that money into the charter schools, this has the earmarks of corporate greed all over it.

The media should be ashamed of having even given any air time to the discussion.  This has been a deliberate distraction to keep the conversation off the real issue:  responsible gun laws and the amazing dynamic grassroots movement of our nation's (and in particular Parkland's) teenagers.  This is not a second amendment issue.  No one is saying to ban all guns.  No one is talking about taking away someone's hunting rifle or their handgun.  What the conversation is about is not allowing citizens to be able to purchase and own military assault weapons.  It is also about action.  It is time to do something. We cannot allow Congress to sit on their thumbs any longer.  No more thoughts and prayers.  No more kicking the can down the road.  No more pandering to donors.  No more blaming the other political party.  No more letting the news shows control the narrative. 

The kids are taking charge of this narrative and we need to listen.  We need to be the adults that they need us to be.  We need to look at the bigger picture and toward what the future needs to become for the next generations to come behind us.  We need to choose our children over military weapons and cowardly politicians.  They are truly the best hope for the future, ours and theirs.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


My child is angry.  Her anger flares up at every mention of Parkland, Florida.  She is angry that those teenagers and teachers were senselessly killed by that boy.  She is angry because she feels that schools aren't doing enough to keep kids safe. She is mad as hell that her school has not prepared the students on what to do if an active shooter were to enter the building. She is truly pissed off that AR-15 assault rifles can be purchased by citizens.  She is irate that the president would even consider that not playing golf for a day would compensate for the loss of 17 lives and the devastation of countless others impacted by this tragedy.  My child is livid that adults who have never lived through this or go to school daily could have any idea what her generation is thinking or feeling. 

My child is frustrated.  She is frustrated that our legislators have failed to even attempt to enact legislation to protect children. She is frustrated that the gun laws in our country are not nearly stringent enough.  She is truly aggravated that adults send "thoughts and prayers" and then accept donations from organizations that promote guns. She is throughly annoyed that adults are not acting fast enough to ensure the safety of children in schools.  She is exasperated that she even has to think of how to protect herself and her friends at school.  

My child is sad.  She is so saddened that these mass shootings keep happening. She is unhappy that in our fast moving news cycle, these stories will soon be lost to whatever terrible event takes over the news. She is mournful for these children were killed for no reason. She is heartbroken over the thought that something like this could happen to her or her friends.

My child is hopeful.  She is inspired by these brave teenage survivors who refuse to allow politicians and newscasters shape the narrative of this tragedy.  She optimistic that her generation can have a voice.  She is encouraged by the speeches and stories that these young people of her peer group are sharing.  My child is becoming confident that she and her peers will be heard.

My child is inspired.  She wants to be a part of the movement to create change. She is motivated to participate in the upcoming Walk-outs and Marches.  She looks forward to having the power to vote when she is 18 in a few short months so she can exercise her right to her opinion.  She is energized by the opportunity to become a part of such badly needed change.  My child feels empowered by the knowledge that she, like today's teenagers, have the know-how and the ability to use Social Media like no other generation.  She knows that she and others like her can use Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram as a power for good.

My child inspires me.  She makes me hopeful.  She makes me feel that this generation will refuse to be defined by others.  She is part of a group of young people who are watching and listening and are finding the power of their own voice.  These children make me inspired.  They are galvanized and energized.  My child and these amazing students from Parkland make me proud.

#NeverAgain #Enough 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Enough is Enough

I work in an Elementary School. When you walk in the door you are greeted by framed artwork made by children.  There are yards and yards of colorful paper chains hung throughout the main hallways, a testament to the the recent fundraiser our school held to help needy members of our community.  It is a riot of bright colors that cannot fail to bring a smile to your face.  Walking further down the halls, there is student work dotting the walls, classrooms are thoughtfully decorated by teachers and the unmistakable sound of children learning is evidenced by a continuous hum.  In my own classroom, years of teaching primary grades has resulted in a learning space complete with rugs, pillows, colorful buckets of children's literature, tiny chairs, fairy lights and even a glowing salt lamp.  It is a primary colored, child-centered and child friendly environment. 

I love my school.  I love my classroom.  It is a peaceful and happy place.  I look forward to coming to work.  When setting up my classroom in August, I put a great deal of thought into how to make the space into one that optimizes learning and comfort for my students.  I want them to love school and to look forward to coming in every day.  It is a safe space for them in that it is predictable and friendly.

Now, in addition to ensuring that I have created the best possible learning environment for my Firsties, I have to consider what I would do in the event of an active shooter.  I have to think about where and how I would hide my students to keep them safe.  There is a bathroom in my classroom, but it is too small for more than a few children.  Unfortunately, the door doesn't lock.  There is also an old fashioned coatroom.  It has a door but that doesn't lock either.  The classroom door locks but there is a window in the door.  Three windows open to the outside on the opposite wall, but it is a several foot drop into the parking lot below.   There are some bookcases and tables which could be used for hiding but my fear is that I can't be in all places at once to protect all 21 of my little ones.  What a gut-wrenching choice that would be - to decide who to send where in the room and who I would stay with.  Let's be realistic:  They would all be right behind me while I tried to keep someone with a gun away from all of them.  

As parents, we send our students to school believing that they are safe.  As teachers, it is part of our job to protect our students.  We are the first line of defense when it comes to their safety.  We cannot leave students unattended in a classroom or any other place in the building for that reason.  We teach and reinforce rules that are intended to ensure the safety of all students.  We practice fire drills, emergency evacuations, lockdown drills, shelter in place and soon... active shooter drills.  This all makes the air-raid drills of the 60's and 70's look like child's play.

Since January 1st, there have been 18 school related shootings in the United States (meaning that there have been 18 incidents on school property).  There have only been 35 attendance days so that means that just over half the days we have been in school since 1/1/18,  50% of those days saw school gun violence in some form.  Once again, yesterday, this country experienced an unspeakable tragedy that resulted in the loss of 14 teenagers and 3 teachers.  Once again, teachers died trying to protect students.  Once again, children bore witness to events that they never should have to see.

All the signs were there.  The shooter is a troubled human who had been expelled from school.  He is involved in a White Supremacist group.  He has a fascination with guns.  He appears angry.  He is a representative of a significant portion of our society today.  He may have been a lone wolf, but he is part of a larger group of people who are no longer living below the radar.  

Schools are points of vulnerability.   What kind of experience would it be for children, especially little ones, to walk into school through metal detectors and past armed guards every day?  How would it feel to have to be locked into a room every morning until it is time to go home?  How would that be ok?  It's not.  It is also not ok for our legislators ignore the issue of gun control and simply send out "thoughts and prayers" every time a child is injured or dies at school.  It is not ok to make guns accessible to everyone.  It's not ok to have assault weapons available to average citizens.  While the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, I highly doubt our founding fathers envisioned a world where semi-automatic weapons were used to shoot innocent children and teachers.  

I don't believe the solution is to create schools that seem more like prisons than places of learning.   Schools should be sanctuaries for students and teachers alike.  "Thoughts and prayers" are nice, but they are not stopping the gun violence.  Every citizen, every parent needs to call, write or email their representatives in Congress and demand that gun laws be changed and that those same people who are supposed to be representing us stop taking money from the National Rifle Association.  Don't try to tell me that "guns don't kill people, people kill people".  Wrong.  Guns do harm people.  Just ask the children in California who were shot when their classmate dropped her backpack and a loaded gun went off.  She didn't shoot them.  The gun did.  

I don't want to walk into school every day considering the options of where I would hide my children or what our escape routes would be for every location in the building.  I'm tired of the narrative.  I'm tired of the "thoughts and prayers".  I'm sick and tired of hearing about children who lost their lives at school because it's never the right time to talk about gun control.

Enough is enough.   

Sunday, February 11, 2018

This is MY Story

This is my story.  Although I do not allow it to define me, it has shaped who I am today.  My story belongs to me and me alone.  Sharing it is frightening.  My story may cause pain to others who should not feel pain.  It may cause criticism.  But I cannot remain quiet.  I cannot be silent if my story can help even just one person. 

This is my story.  I was once a victim but I am now a survivor.  My story started soon after I was married many years ago to a man who told me lies.  I believed his lies because I saw no reason not too.  His parents were complicit in his lies.  I thought he was someone who he was not.  We argued while on our honeymoon, and although I cannot remember why, I do remember my hurt and my sadness.  His preferred method of punishment at that time was to give me the silent treatment.  It has colored my memory of what should have been a special time.  After returning home, we struggled to adjust to married life together.  We argued often and I kept a partially packed suitcase under our bed in case I needed to leave.  Just after our one year anniversary, I discovered downloaded photos, a briefcase full of videos and subscriptions to websites containing disturbing pornography.  He charged the subscriptions to our shared credit line.  I made him leave.  He was humbled and promised me that he would change.  He promised counseling.  I let him return.  Not long after, I discovered I was pregnant with my first child.  I hoped that our lives would improve.  

I spent much of my pregnancy upset and anxious.  He was unkind and critical.  When I went into labor, he intentionally hit every bump and pothole on the way to the hospital and laughed as I moaned in pain.  Upon returning home with my 2 day old son, he called me a bitch and stupid as I changed my child's diaper.  He became controlling and called relentlessly to check up on us.  He told me I was a bad mother and that I was unable to care for my colicky child.  I was depressed and trying desperately to work full time and care for a child with reflux and colic.

When my child was 9 months old, my husband became aggressive and nearly hit me.  I had discovered pornography in the house again and subscriptions to websites.  I also found out that the college degree that he claimed to have was a complete fabrication and that he had never attended college at all.  I called the police and then his father.  I told them to remove him from the house.  I now had a mortgage and a child.  He stayed with his parents for several weeks and claimed he was getting counseling.  We attended marriage counseling.  He registered for classes at a nearby college as I set that as a condition of his return.  I let him come back.

Life went on.  He attended classes at night and changed jobs.  I worked, completed my master's degree and cared for our child.  I hoped we had turned a corner.   I became pregnant again.  He started going to "study groups" and was out more and more.  I went into labor with our daughter.  While at the hospital, he disappeared and the nurses could not find him when I was about to deliver.  He was outside the hospital calling a woman from his study group.  He rarely came to see me while I was in the hospital with our daughter.  On the day I came home with her, he demanded I cook dinner as he had invited his parents over.  I was sore, tired and learning to nurse my child.  He couldn't tolerate her crying so I had to stay downstairs on the couch for weeks.  I had to take her to the basement when she fussed.  He almost never got up in the night with her, instead literally kicking me awake.  I was severely sleep deprived.

I fought back in my own way.  I nursed my child even though it disgusted him.  He couldn't control her feedings and it gave me an escape and some sense of control.  I insisted in staying home for 2 years to care for the children.  His response was to ensure I had little access to money.  But I knew I needed to be with my children. When our daughter was 2, I returned to work.  I was exhausted but earning an income gave me more equal footing as I was earning more than he was.  By this time, I was sure he was involved with another woman but I was so tired, I could barely find the energy or time to worry about it.  Just before we closed on our new home, we were arguing (which was now an almost daily occurrence) and he swung at me while I was holding our 2 1/2 year old.  I leaned back and he hit the wall and put a hole in it.  I was stunned.  

I should have left then, but now I had 2 children and was under contract for a much larger house and mortgage.  He repaired the hole.  We moved but it was horrible.  He didn't want to hire movers so I was expected to move most of our belongings while taking care of a 3 year old and a 6 year old and a large dog.  He criticized constantly and threatened to leave me homeless.  

During those years, I had tolerated verbal abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse.  I was consistently told how I was a bad mother, stupid and incapable.  His favorite method of abuse was the silent treatment.  He gaslighted me consistently, twisting words and denying facts.  I stayed because I had 2 small children and a large mortgage.  My parents and my sister lived out of state.  He began to isolate me from others by criticizing my friends and family.  He was controlling and cruel.

Within a year of moving into our new house, he began (another) affair.  She was a subordinate at his work and 13 years his junior.  He accused me of sleeping with coworkers.  I most certainly was not, but he was projecting his behavior on me.  He lied, he gaslit and he became physically abusive. I confronted him repeatedly with evidence of his affair.  He spit on me, pushed me, threw things at me and even put a phone through the wall while trying to hit me with it.  He was verbally abusive.  He used our son as his cover story when he went to meet up with his girlfriend.  I went to counseling.  He told me if I told anyone, he would call the HR director at my work and tell them I was abusing my students.  He told me he would tell everyone I was crazy and take my children.  He said he would have me locked up in a mental hospital.  He pinched and he kicked.  I spent two years living a hell I would not wish on anyone.

I did not tell a soul.  I was afraid.  His gaslighting was emotionally draining.  He twisted my words.  He made me feel as if the abuse was my fault.  He woke me in the night when he would come home from sleeping with his coworker and insist on having sex.  He kept me in a state of sleep deprivation.  My nerves were on edge.  I had sex against my will.  I couldn't sleep and lost quite a bit of weight.  He taunted me by flaunting the affair.  

I finally told a co-worker who was a friend.  She saved me.  We went to the police department where we met with an officer from the family services division.  The female officer handed me a checklist.  I was shocked that so much of what I was living was considered abuse:  silent treatment, control, isolation, verbal abuse and on and on.  We planned my escape.  I was terrified.  I took the kids out of school and dropped them off at my aunt's house while I went to family court.  I was a mess.  My friend physically held me up.  I was questioned and made to talk to Child Protection Services.  I received a temporary restraining order based on my testimony and my police report.  He called as I was leaving the courthouse and left messages threatening me.  I stayed at my aunt's house. She protected me. 

The police arrived at our home to remove him.  He was informed that he could not be anywhere near the house nor me until we met in court in a few days.  He was given a copy of the protection order.  Two days later, I went back to the house to get clothing and to pick up my dog who I had to leave in the care of a neighbor.  While there, he showed up in direct violation of the protection order.  My cousin called the police and they arrested him about a mile away.  He made threats against me so they put him in jail for the night.  He filed for divorce immediately.

It took nearly a year for the divorce to finalize.  During that year, I attended counseling as did my son.  My estranged husband manipulated the kids and told my story of abuse as his own.  He claimed my experience as his.  Our divorce and his arrest put our case into the Integrated Domestic Violence court.  The judge extended my protection order to 16 months as my safety was not guaranteed.  He played games with the child support payments to financially abuse me.  His lies continued and our children were used as pawns in his game.  He accused me of things I never did.  I was diagnosed with PTSD from my experience.  Entering the court house induced an anxiety attack.  Emails sent me into a panic as he continued to abuse me through that channel.  I had to have him blocked from my work email account as he tried to get me fired by writing falsehoods about me in hopes that my superiors would read them.  He withheld payments and created ways to threaten me.  Over the years, he has lied and twisted stories to make me look bad.  But I know the truth and the truth will always be mine.

Writing this brings back all those feelings.  My heart is racing as my fingers fly over the keyboard trying to pour out the words.  To this day, almost 12 years later, I am still filled with panic when I have to be in a room with him or even see his name in my email inbox.  He tried to make my story HIS story.  But this is MY story.  My scars are not visible but they are there.  My story is still painful.  My story exposes me.  I keep my story deep down where I can manage the pain and shield my children from some of the details.  

My abuser has gone on to hold very good jobs.  He even sits on a board of directors for an agency that advocates for abused women.  He is manipulative and a narcissist.  He is a hypocrite and a liar.  He uses my story to create his own narrative that suits his needs.  In this way, he continues the abuse by trying to take my story and discredit my experience.  But it is my story to tell.

This is my story.  My story has a happy ending.  I came out okay.  I thrived.  I refused to be a victim any longer.  I was determined to be a survivor.  I used my story to empower myself and strengthen my core.  I keep my story where I can revisit it in times when I need to be strong.  I survived.  I constantly told myself that there is life on the other side and it is wonderful.  I try to teach my children strength in the face of adversity.  So many others are not so lucky.  So many women never get out.  So many women stay silent out of fear.  So many women are kept down by a system that abuses the victim and empowers the abuser. I understand the fear.  I understand the pain.  I understand the inability to tell anyone for fear that you will either not be believed or worse, you could lose your children, your home or your life. 

I encourage all women to tell their story, but I understand if you can't or you won't.  I understand what you have to lose.  I understand the pain to relive your story in the retelling.  I understand the pain of having your story discredited or disbelieved.  I understand the fear of admitting to others that you were or are powerless. I understand the shame.  I understand.  Abuse is not always about bruises and broken bones. Abuse is about broken hearts and broken spirits.  It is about broken promises and broken dreams.  It is about broken confidence and broken trust.  Abuse is about power and having power over others.  We can own our power by telling our story as we know it.  

#MeToo #TimesUp #Resist #MyStory

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nature vs. Nurture

On a warm, sunny day in June, I had taken my Firsties outside to the playground.  My class was quite diverse that year.  My students were part of an integrated ENL (English as a New Language) class, meaning that my Littles were Caucasian, African American, Iraqi, Jordanian, Syrian, Iranian, Armenian, Sri Lankan and Ethiopian. My students all had varying levels of English proficiency. Suddenly one of my little ones ran up to me upset and teary.  "Mikey won't let me play with him because he says I am brown", she cried. Mykayla, who was the sole African American child, had been trying to play with Mikey, who was from Ethiopia.  I called Mikey over, asked if what Mykayla said was true. He said, "Yes, she's brown so I don't want to play with her."  I gently pushed up his sleeve and showed him his arm next to hers.  "Mikey", I said, "News flash.  You're brown too."  I pointed to several of the boys and girls on the playground.  "So is he, and he and those 3 girls too. You always play with them."  Mikey looked astonished and said, "Oh.  Ok.  Never mind", and ran off to play with Mykayla and the other children.

I relate this story because with race such an issue in our country, we need to be aware that racism is not inherent in our DNA.  Racism and prejudice is taught to our children by others, mostly the adults in their lives.  

Recently, our president made a remark that was incredibly racist.  Even worse, the people in the room with him reportedly did little or nothing to immediately point out the egregious error that he made.  To add further insult to injury, some of the men and women in the room who witnessed this clearly racist remark, have been afflicted with either selective amnesia or a stunning loss of hearing.

The foul language used by the president doesn't bother me.  What DOES bother me is his obvious disregard for other humans whose skin color and heritage are different from his own.  That, along with his inability to set an example as a leader for our nation, our citizens and our children.

This is not the first remark he has made that has disparaged others.  It will surely not be his last as is evidenced by all that has come both before and since his comments regarding immigrants from other nations.  

For over 2 and a half decades, I have worked with 6 & 7 year old children.  I often refer to the first half of the school year as "puppy school".  Children are not born with the skills they need to be successful in a community or as part of a civilized society.  It is up to the adults in their lives to provide the modeling and instruction to help them develop those skills.  In my classroom, we participate in regular lessons and discussions about kindness, manners, honesty, community, integrity and caring.  My students learn what it means to be equal members of a community, each individual and unique, yet part of a larger whole.

Racism, like kindness, is a learned behavior.  Prejudiced is also learned, as are honesty and good manners.  Children model what they see.  They look to the adults in their world and take their cues on how to view others.  It is our responsibility to set the right examples for children.  We CAN teach our children to accept others who may look different from themselves.  But first, we need to demand that our elected leaders set a better example for us all.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Feed me

Ten years ago a tornado of a girl whirled her way into my classroom. She was a tiny wisp of a child, all sharp angles, black braids and colorful barrettes.  She arrived full of swagger and attitude.  On that first day, she brought with her a backpack, empty of the requested school supplies, and wore pants so large on her small frame that she had to hold them up.  Immediately Raven (not her real name) set out to control both the classroom and me.  

Raven challenged everything I knew about teaching children.  She was demanding - of my time and attention, like no other child I had ever taught.  Raven knew no positive ways of gaining attention so she sought out every negative way possible.  She was disruptive and defiant.  She refused to cooperate.  She was stubborn and naughty.  Gradually, we came to a semi-truce.  It took lots of patience, more than I thought I could produce some days.

Raven and her younger sister received free lunch and breakfast at school.  I soon came to discover that the girls would keep one item from breakfast and one from their lunch each day so they would have something to eat for dinner.  On weekends, they would walk hand in hand down the street to the convenience store to buy either cereal or chips to eat.  Often on Fridays, I would send home food for the girls with notes that said "your child won the leftovers from our class party" along with snacks from our classroom, so that they would have enough to eat until school started again on Monday morning. 

That little girl wore many items from my own daughter's closet that year.  My kids and I would shop for new clothes, take the tags off and pass them on to her and her sister.  She never acknowledged it, but wore them proudly to school.  Often her clothes were dirty and stained, especially her coat.  When it got too much to bear, I would take the girls' coats to the washing machine in the school cafeteria and ask them to please add them to the laundry load so the kids would have clean coats to wear home.  

Raven imprinted herself on my heart.  I had spent many years teaching in a school with a fairly low poverty rate and had just joined the faculty at a different school in the district.  The poverty rate was over 50% and slowly growing.  Raven was the first child I knew whose glaring poverty impacted her learning so significantly.  Throughout the school year, I came home and told my family stories about her.  Gradually, she came to trust me and started to behave better and learn to read.  Until the day that she told her mother that she loved her teacher and her mom hit her on the head with an orange juice bottle.  It took months of work to get her to allow herself to like me after that.  

Raven and her sister's home situation was less than ideal.  School was their safety net.  In school, no one beat them and they had regular meals to eat.  Raven hated Fridays and vacations, so her behavior would escalate at those times.  She never knew if she would have food to eat or if she would be safe.  She was always exhausted and would fall asleep if I turned out the lights to show a short video.  During school assemblies she would sit on my lap and nap soundly as soon as the lights went down. 

I had many precious moments with Raven in spite of all the challenges.  She used to sidle up next to me and play with my hair.  I'll never forget the day she was standing behind me with her fingers entangled in my hair and said "Missus Sacco, this be your real hair?"  After correcting her grammar, I told her that yes, that my hair is real.  She responded "No, it must be the weave. It be so long."  I nearly cried laughing.  

The following school year, I had Raven's sister in my class.  Unlike Raven, Moirai was not defiant nor disruptive.  She was not attention seeking at all; in fact, she tried as hard as possible not to draw attention to herself.  She was also tiny and always hungry.  She cried often, sometimes for extended periods of time, and was inconsolable.  Like her older sister, she struggled to learn and hated going back home.  On the last day of school that year, she gave me a card.  On the inside, she had written, "Ms. Sacco, this classroom is a special place."  I still have that card hanging over my desk at school.  

After those two years with those precious girls, there have been many children that have significantly impacted my life, my teaching and my heart.  There was Amir, who was so big in first grade that he was wearing a size 11 shoe and men's large shirts.  He stood 5 feet tall and nearly knocked me over when he came over for a hug.  Amir was also 6 years old and still sucked his thumb.  Every morning, he walked into my classroom and greeted me by saying, "Good Morning Missus Sacco!  I be lovin' you!"  Amir needed boots so I gave him an older pair of my husband's hunting boots and he wore them even to bed.  Amir and his brother and 7 cousins all lived together in one house with their moms and a grandma.  They were all receiving free lunch and breakfast as 3 out of 4 adults were unable to work due to health issues.  Amir's mom took the bus to both of her jobs and did her best.  Those free meals at school made all the difference for those children.

Not long after came Tina.  Another skinny little girl with a head full of curls.  Tina's family were refugees from a war torn location overseas.  The second week into school, I discovered that she had been stealing milk from the cafeteria in the mornings during breakfast because her family had little food at home.  She continued to steal whenever she could but mostly it was from my snack drawer and supply bins.  As a former refugee, she tended to be a hoarder and we had several discussions about not taking and keeping things that didn't belong to her.  Hunger was just one of the many issues that she struggled with daily.

So many of my littles over the years have been recipients of our school's free meal programs.  While I doubt I could provide numerical data on how those meals impacted their test scores or academic performance, I know that I could tell the impact it had on their lives.  Those free meals meant and continue to mean that many children are better able to concentrate during the school day.  They don't feel hunger pangs or suffer from headaches.  They aren't distracted by thinking about food.  Free and reduced lunches allow the kids to fit in with the other children by leveling the playing field in the cafeteria.  They can sit and eat and talk with friends.  Imagine the isolation a child would feel if they were without food during lunch time.  

What kind of a society are we if we allow our most vulnerable to go hungry?  Is it that much of a sacrifice for us to feed our nation's children two relatively small, somewhat healthy, meals a day?  Aren't we obligated as humans to care for others, especially those who can't care for themselves?

** Names and other details changed to protect the identities of the children described in this post.