As editor RiShawn Biddle made clear in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast cannot use the troubles in their lives as excuses for letting them stumble and fail on the path to success in school and in life. This starts with us serving as models for the behaviors, expectations, and valuing of challenge we want our kids to embrace. For those kids who have struggles in their lives outside of school, it means that teachers and school leaders must also show how much they care for them; this includes not letting kids off the hook when life’s challenges sometimes get in the way.

voiceslogoIn this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Vickie Gunnells-Hodge, the founder of Houston-based student empowerment group Love In Abundance, explains why we must help struggling students build trust in themselves and provide them models of success. Read, consider, and model success for the children around you. And, by the way, offer your support for her work as well. 

As a divorced mother of three, who began interviewing children of divorce or separation after my divorce more than three decades ago; the decision was made to talk with children in like situations as my own to gain insight into what not to do to or around my children. I married poorly, no qualms about that, because that decision was made by an adult. But our children had nothing to do with our choice to eventually separate, and I did not want them to suffer any more than was necessary.

What I learned from years of interviews with our students is that many of them have trust issues. Students perceived that adults in their lives had no interest in making them the priority. They didn’t trust that adults in their lives would look out for them. Students felt they didn’t have parents who were consistent co-laborers inciting the best in their educational endeavors and could influence their interest in advancing their education. And they realized that they lacked problem resolution skills needed to deal with anger and frustration—and thus keep them out of detention or other school punishment.

Meanwhile students didn’t feel that adults provided them with the critical thinking skills that aids them in seeking amicable resolutions to the negative aspects of their lives. They also didn’t feel they had an awareness of themselves or the societal rules for advancing in life, skills key for them to broaden their definition of their lives and expand their desires for the future. Finally, they didn’t understand the unwavering societal as defined by sociologist Dr. Pierre Bourdieu in his own explorations of social, economic, and cultural capital.

This distrust of adults and lack of life skills caused many students to experience anger so intently that often times their first, second, and third response was to hurt, harm, or violate to prevent self from being hurt, harmed, or violated again. Their problems influenced the actions of other students around them. And these students ultimately become selfish, embracing a mindset of I, Me, My, Mine that limits their own growth in the world around them.

How do we help these students and restore them? This was an important question. What our students need is to see other adults concerned with their wellbeing. Students need to know that they are the priority for adults around them, and that is an important step towards their own empowerment. Through my work and that of my group, Love In Abundance, we began student contests and fundraisers around designing covers for our curriculum, College Must Begin at 8th. This allows students to see that there are people in this country who still help others. This stance was pertinent because students taught us the significance of showing them they were the priority through genuine concern if we wanted them to accept and model the lessons able to propel them forward.

We must model the expectations we want students to embrace. And this must happen through active participation in activities that allow them to know that they are empowered and that there are adults who care for them.