Our guest blogger today is Lindsay Bowley, wife to Paul Bowley on our development team, teacher, and advocate. She is a tremendous writer and advocate for young girls where she the teaches.

Anita was at best apathetic in my class.  Honestly, I never heard a peep out of her for the majority of the school year.  When she did her assignments, none of them really stood out, and it seemed as if she did them begrudgingly with half-hearted effort.  It wasn’t until a poetry project given at the end of the year that my attention was turned to her like never before.  I asked my students to write a poem about an inner struggle they had, and compare it to a metaphorical monster within them.  As I scanned the room, watching my students diligently working, my eyes turned to Anita.  To my stunned surprise, she was writing furiously, engaged in this one task more than she had been in any other the whole year.

When I peeped at her paper to see what “monster” caused her to write with such passion, the word MARIJUANA caught my eye. Sensing me looking over her shoulder, she turned to me and whispered, “I need help. I know my monster is supposed to be bad, but honestly I can only think of reasons why I like it.”  My heart dropped to my stomach.  Finally, she was beginning to do work for me, but she was revealing a major struggle that I knew I had to address.

The next day, Anita and I (with cold sodas in hand) took a walk to the teacher’s lounge during class.  After spending time talking through her writing, we eventually began to discuss the inevitable.  Shyly, she told me about how it all started, who dealt it to her, how often she did it, and why.  When I called home and spoke with her mother, more revelations about this young lady came to light.

Anita lived in a broken home. Her mother was at a complete loss as to what to do when I told them about this discovery.  Being a young newlywed in my 20’s, I found myself in the awkward place of having to give this parent advice.

Yes, you should call and report the teenager distributing the pot. Under the circumstances, yes I do feel that you should probably set some clear boundaries and guidelines for your daughter.

As the words left my mouth, I began to see more clearly that Anita’s support system at home was weak at best.

Hoping that this phone conversation and my long talk with Anita would do some good, I was devastated when one of the worst scenarios possible happened.  In a fleeting moment of stupidity, Anita and one of her friends decided to bring marijuana to school, planning to smoke it outside the art room during the week of CRCT testing.  When it was discovered that this potent substance was in her possession, she was whisked away from the carefree world of middle school, never to enter its doors again.  Her shocked parents did not hear her all-too-subtle cry for help. She spent the rest of the year sitting in an ISS cubbyhole over at the high school campus.

Right before she left, I issued a new assignment – one in which my students had to write about their past, and what is important to them.  This was a multi-genre project, so students created narrative pieces, poetry, eulogies, or thank-you notes, etc.  About a week and a half into the project, well before the assignment was due, I received an email from Anita containing her writing – all in a language that artfully came to life.  Her words painted beautiful pictures on the page; it was a masterful compilation.  She wrote honestly, reflectively, and with the passion of someone who truly loved putting pen to paper. In her project reflection, she talked about how writing had become almost a part of her; an essential and something that she couldn’t do without.

I tried to process what I was reading. Here was this student addicted to marijuana, expelled from school, in the eyes of so many around her – a hopeless cause.  This girl was writing with the expertise and level of honesty that far exceeded many of her peers!  It would have been easy to slap the label of “delinquent” on her, but if you looked past her obvious shortcomings, you would be able to see budding talent and creativity.

One day, I decided to take a leap of faith.  Not knowing whether or not I would crash and burn, I walked over to the high school and met with Anita.  I told her she was a good writer and genuinely praised her for a job well done.  Her eyes lit up, and she received my words as if positive compliments were a rarity to her ears.  A few weeks prior to this, I had learned of a summer creative writing institute at a local university. I talked with her about the program and told her earnestly that she should look into participating in it.  Her talent was real, and it needed to be developed. As she expressed that she would like to participate, I began to understand that she was just looking for someone to believe in her.

Girls just like Anita sit in classrooms around the country.  These are young women who have made wrong choices – for whatever reason – and choose to dwell in the crippling cycle of self-defeat.  I have seen it time and time again as teachers and caretakers look at girls like Anita and lower their bar of expectations, simply because of lifestyle choices. What would happen if we began capitalizing on their strengths instead of focusing on their faults?

What if we chose to believe in children more than they believe in themselves?