Why I Believe In CIS
by Jonathan E. Salazar
There are no bad students; only unrecognized learning obstacles.
I am a former CIS Site Coordinator. A school counselor once asked me to meet with a parent who was convinced that her son was addicted to drugs. When we met, the mother explained to me that after school her son only wanted to sleep. She went on to say that he was “lazy” and “irritable.” The student had all Fs despite having nearly perfect attendance.
I set up an initial meeting with the student and contacted his teachers. Each teacher mirrored the observations of the mother: the student seemed unmotivated, distracted and angry. Next I met with the student and asked him directly if he was using drugs. He forcefully denied using drugs, and our conversation triggered a very personal memory for me.
From Kindergarten to 12th grade I attended nine different schools:
2 elementary schools
3 junior high schools
4 high schools
I was not what you would call a model student.
I was educated mostly in private schools. In parent conferences, my teachers said that I was unmotivated, easily distracted, lazy, angry and combustible. My mom generally concurred, but often felt that a change of scenery could help me get on track.
Year after year, one teacher after the next identified me as a problem student. I felt stigmatized. As I got older my grades became progressively worse. In middle school, as other boys my age began developing muscles, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of frailty. I felt physically weak, brittle and tired all the time.
In 8th grade I began medicating with alcohol. I would sneak into my aunt’s house to steal beer from her refrigerator and drink alone. In 9th grade I ditched school frequently, drank in the school parking lot before school and sometimes carried beer and liquor in my backpack to drink in the bathroom. I finished my freshman year with nearly straight F’s, and my parents decided to send me to yet another school.
Over the next three years I would attend three different schools.
Although my grades improved slightly, and I managed to get myself on track to graduate, I felt increasingly scattered, weak and hopeless. I continued to medicate with alcohol.
Two months before graduation, my grandmother, who was suffering from breast cancer, became very sick. I felt intense sadness as my family prepared for the worst. Although my grandmother pulled through, my emotional pain turned into physical pain, and I experienced extreme fatigue and body aches that kept me out of school for three weeks. I returned to school two weeks before final exams. My teachers gave me the opportunity to do make-up work to graduate, but I wasn’t able to focus when I tried to complete my assignments. I wondered if the teachers who had said that I was lazy and unmotivated were right. With my diploma on the line I felt hopeless, unable…disabled.
I dropped out two weeks before graduation day.
Six years later I was diagnosed with Lupus. A massage therapist recognized a lump in my neck, and the ensuing months of testing and eventual diagnosis finally illuminated what had troubled me since childhood. Lupus symptoms include: chronic fatigue, back and joint pain, mood swings and an inability to focus.
Following high school I received my GED. I enrolled in college and dropped out two separate times. I met my eventual wife when I was 20, at a time when I felt particularly defeated. I was physically, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. There were a lot people who loved and cared about me who had not recognized that I was struggling. It only took one extra person’s care and empathy to change the course of my life. At the time of my diagnosis, my wife had recently given birth to our daughter. With a renewed clarity of self, and extra motivation, I returned to school to pursue a college degree. I have never failed another class.
“I’m not on drugs. I just feel tired. I feel sick all the time. Everybody thinks I’m on drugs, maybe I should use them.”
I recognized the look in the student’s eyes and the tone in his voice. He was nearly hopeless. I believed him. I informed the school counselor, who set up a visit to the nurse’s office. The school nurse referred the student to a doctor, who eventually referred him to a Rheumatologist.
The student was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Following his diagnosis, and with a treatment plan in place, his grades began improving. His teachers reported a noticeable improvement in attitude.
Within the complex structure of a school, there are many cracks to fall through. Not every learning obstacle is recognized, but the more eyes watching the better. Sometimes it only takes one caring adult.
I believe in CIS because if there wasn’t an extra set of eyes looking out for that kid, and an extra set of ears to listen to him, he may have succumbed to the stigma. He may have given up.
He may have dropped out.
There are no obstacles too great; only mountains to climb and enjoy the view from.
It Takes A Village.