As attitudes and behaviors shift, the atmosphere of the classroom follows them. Negative mindsets become contagious, poor choices are mimicked, and unhealthy habits are replicated. In essence, when one student falls, they all begin to fall. And just like dominoes, they fall rapidly.

The dust of Ashton’s suspension had not yet settled when Chardonnay came sweeping through its wake and exited the school year in her own flair for the dramatic. When most students get into trouble, they have the ability to salvage what is left of the day and survive to see the bell ring. Most students. We have discovered that most does not include Chardonnay, who is in a classification of her own.

It was her first day back to school, fresh off her latest suspension. By noon, it was obvious that either 1) she was embarrassed that she had been suspended and was trying to attract negative attention to herself in order to protect her pride, 2) she was deliberately trying to get suspended again, or 3) something had happened during her suspension that had caused her to snap and had erased any desire she once had for trying to act like a decent human being. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to make it through the day.

She made sure of that when they went to P.E. right before lunch. Chardonnay had already been in trouble for being off-task, using inappropriate language, antagonizing other students, and intentionally doing the complete opposite of everything I asked of her. When I walked into the gym to check on the students, I found her mouthing off to her P.E. teacher, raising her voice and shaking her finger in his face. That’s when I called it quits. I told her we were heading to see the officer and that she was getting suspended.

Chardonnay’s personality only has two gears: fast and uncontrollable. Or so I thought she only had two gears. When I told her that I was removing her from the gym, she shifted into a gear that I had never seen before. She first started crying to see if I would show sympathy. When I stood my ground, she began cursing me out in blood curling screams that caused every student in the gym to stop moving. When she had finally said her peace (as well as a few extra four-letter words to top it off), she sprinted toward the door as fast as she could. For the next few minutes, a chase ensued around the campus as Chardonnay tried to flee from whatever demons were haunting her. She never did outrun them.

Like Ashton, it would be the last time that I would see Chardonnay. You can say that all kids are crazy at the end of the school year, but I think there’s more to it than that. There seems to be a camaraderie in hopelessness. That as one falls victim to the feeling, others feel comforted that someone has gone before them. It makes going there that much easier and that much more convenient. And that’s because they have never been sold anything different. They have bought into the lies and deceit and mistrust. They have chosen “this is who I’ll always be” over “this is who I can choose to be.” They allow the shadows to win. And for that, my heart breaks.

But as I watched Chardonnay hauled away, I turned around to face four students who still needed me. They still had a chance to finish the year better than they had started it. And it’s those four that I will choose to focus on as the school year draws to a close.

When the dominoes fall, they fall quickly—unless someone stands in the gap and cuts off their route. Then the bleeding can stop and hope can regain its ground.

It’s time to regain some ground.

-WMM

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