Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 14, The 30-Day Photo Challenge

Day Fourteen: A picture of some you could never imagine your life without

I think we can ALL agree family is the most important piece in one's life. I could never be without Jerry or CJ, or my brother, my parents, grandparents, best friends that have become like sisters (Paige, Emily, JoAnn, Kellie) and a multitude of other people that make a huge mark on my life. However, these are expected entities within our realm of existence.  God has chosen our family carefully for us, and we thrive within this circle of love (and sometimes hate - no one's perfect!).  With that said, every now and then, God blesses you with a special person that for whatever reason, becomes important to you that you just didn't expect.

Enter Leyla Scott. I've blogged about her before, and I'm going to repost this here for you now. The unique thing about Leyla is she's not my biological daughter, though I adore her. She's not my age, so she wasn't a prospective friend when I met her. She is in my life because it was meant to be, and I'm so glad she is.

School is over for the 2009-2010 school year.  During the duration of classes and homework, time seemed to drag as if this day would never come; yet it did faster than we all thought it would.  And now that the end is here, she graduates and will go off to college, taking a piece of my heart with her.  She is Leyla Scott and she is more than "just a student", she is my friend, my family.

Four years ago, she began her career at the high school when I did.  She was a bright eyed, beautiful young girl that tried out for the dance team her freshman year.  The school had never had a dance team before that functioned the way I know dance teams to roll out, so overall the talent was "workable" but not solid, except her.  She could do leaps and pirouettes and battements without explanation.  Hands down, the most talented  young woman that auditioned and of course, she made the team.  Unfortunately, the team didn't last due to attendance and money, but she did.  Because as luck would have it, she landed herself in my English II class her sophomore year.

Originally, she was in Honors English as a 10th grader, but for some reason (as fate would have it some say) she decided it was not the right fit for her and transferred into my room during the 1st 9-weeks.  Now, we both knew the regular class would be too easy for her, and we both knew she should have remained in Honors, but destiny had a better plan for our lives and so she stayed.  Over the course of the year I learned about her, who she was, and what she'd been through.  You see, Leyla isn't just a high school girl.  In her short 16 years of life, she'd known more heartache than I'd ever experienced as her father was tragically taken from her at the young age of 10-years old.   I learned this when she handed me a letter from her mom excusing her from a week of school to attend C.O.P.S., an organization for survivors and she is a survivor.

Her junior year returned her to my classroom, this time as an Honors student.  I had the great privilege of teaching her a 2nd year in a row, and also the privilege of teaching Honors students; the best and the brightest.  And they were.  Her group pushed me harder as teacher than I thought possible and they kept me on my toes all the time.  Writing was my biggest focus and I pushed Leyla probably harder than she wanted to be.  I'll never forget the day I handed her back a paper and tears filled her eyes.  I was heart broken...she was devastated.  The grade wasn't bad, a 'B' if I remember correctly, but she wanted an 'A' and I had to find a way to get her there.  After this round of writing she wrote two more papers for me - both of which I'll never forget.

The first was based on a short story by Washington Irving, The Devil and Tom Walker.  In the story, he makes a deal with the devil and their assignment was to write a creative short story in which their main character makes a deal with the devil.  She wrote about Santa Claus.  It was amazing...the gist of the story being Santa Claus can never tell who he is or he will no longer be Santa Claus.  It's a blessing and a curse.  It was this story that I saw the creative ideas really flow from her and hands down, one of the BEST papers I received on the assignment.   She scored her first 'A' paper in my class and I think we were both relived.  You see, teaching is a tricky profession.  There are some kids you just like, I mean you really like them.  They are neat and fun and smart and if they were about 10 years older, would probably be your best friend.  You want them to do well, you want them to be successful, but you also hold their success in your hands; you can't give it to them, they must earn it.  When you have a child like this with you, putting a grade on their paper that you know is going to sting is as hard for you to do as it is for them to see it.  Every time I marked in red on her work, it hurt me, but had I not marked it red, in the long run - it would have hurt her.

The last paper she did in my class was based on a reading called The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.  The short piece focused on how in an hour, our entire life can change.  Leyla wrote about the morning her father died.  It was 17-pages long and she had to just stop writing...she was well on her way to a novella.  It was the most moving, descriptive, touching, emotional paper I'd ever read in my years of teaching.  I sat reading about her life, her hurt, her family's pain with tears streaming down my face.  It was well written, wrought with raw hurt that I know she still feels from time to time.  She got a 100 on the paper (I'm not evil) but not because it made me cry, but because it was real; so very very real.  Leyla was different than the others.  I got stories about boyfriends and girlfriends, about friendships gone awry, about parental disagreements, and sport success - all important ideas, but this young woman, what she wrote about was something no one else had ever known; she wrote directly from the heart.

The summer between her Junior and Senior year I got to know her more as a person and not a student.  For a young girl, she was as mature as many of my adult friends.  I jokingly tell her she wormed her way into my family, but that's not entirely true - the more I knew of Leyla, the more I knew she was more than just a kid I had in class.  As luck would have it, Leyla became my aide her senior year.

She was an excellent aide, filed like a champ and rarely complained of paper cuts :).  Her senior year brought our relationship even closer and she began to baby-sit for my son.  He, of course, loves her.  I must say, she knows how to entertain a 6-year-old little guy and runs around shooting a Nerf gun with the best of them.  Leyla trusted in me and my family, and I slowly let the teacher/student wall down and began to trust in her.  I learned about her family, her life, her friends, and her future plans.  She met my husband, too and while he's not the biggest fan of high school kids, even he was drawn in by Leyla's charm.  At one time Leyla commented to Jerry and me that we just had to have another baby, we needed a little girl and it was my husband who said (and I quote) "I thought we had one, she's 18, brown hair, brown eyes..."  That made her laugh, made me smile, and solidified what I already knew - Leyla wasn't just a student, she was family and we loved her as such.

I was part of filling out college applications and talking her through tough times surrounding the general high school drama and I always felt special that she wanted to talk to me.  The maturity level of this remarkable young woman is testament to how fantastic her mother is as I find children you'd love to make your own most likely come from a good family, that's often why they are so great.  Leyla had a way about her that made me feel special in her life, a smile that draws a person in, and the personality to make you want to stay.  During her time as my aide, Leyla's family was on Extreme Home Makeover and I couldn't think of a more deserving family, or a more deserving young woman to receive such an amazing gift.  She went off for a week to Disney World and I missed her - she had definitely won me over!

This is her last summer in Clarksville, TN.  In the fall, she begins her college journey at MTSU and I am so proud of her.  It has been my privilege to be a part of her life and I am so blessed that she picked me.  I always keep students at an arm's length, I am their teacher, I am not their friend or their mother.  But just once, I let down my guard and this choice has blessed me more than I could have known.  So, Leyla Scott, this post is for you - may you know now and forever that you are always welcome in my family - we are proud of you, we love you, and we can't wait to see what your future holds!