I felt the call on my life to work with people I will identify as the “underdogs”, when I was in college. These are individuals who struggle with physical and/or mental challenges on a consistent basis. I double majored in Psychology and Recreation Therapy in response to that call. I worked in psychiatric hospitals providing therapy and support to those who faced mental and psychological struggles after graduation. After twelve years, I began to feel the call to use my knowledge and gifts in a different direction, the field of education. I returned to school and earned my teaching certificate in Special Education. I had worked primarily with adults in my career as a therapist but felt I could have a greater impact if I intervened earlier. I could do this by working with children and their families. God prepared me for my current mission. I taught for five years in a traditional public school and worked with children who had a variety of learning needs along with some environmental factors that negatively affected their school experience. Then, I was given the opportunity to transition to teaching exceptional children at a new alternative school with a day treatment component that serves students who have mental health diagnoses. It became clear to me at that time that God’s plan for my career had come full circle. God had prepared me not only to work with students with special needs but also those with mental health challenges. This is my tenth year teaching in this capacity.
Students that attend our school have a difficult time navigating life. They carry the baggage of sickness, hunger, homelessness, poverty, foster care, incarceration of a parent, physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or neglect, and inappropriate role models in the home environment. Most of them enter the doors of our school with little hope. It is no wonder these students have been unable to fully access and embrace the academic instruction provided to them throughout their school experience. Few of our students get excited about getting school vacations because it is difficult for them to face life outside the care and consistency of the typical school schedule.
I have the blessing of being in the bi-vocational role as both educator and missionary. The bible tells us in Matthew 5: 13-14 to be salt and light to those around us. I offer light by helping students feel safe, loved, and cared for while they are at school. I instill hope in them as they experience growth and success with academics as well as overcome personal challenges. The goal of my colleagues and I is to help our students recognize they have value and worth and deserve respect.
We challenge them to think beyond their current situation of which they have little to no control. Our school adopted a “Growth Mindset” culture this year. It emphasizes the importance of students giving their best effort, demonstrating perseverance, recognizing failure as the first step to success and simply saying, “I can’t do that, yet.” We instill the importance of striving toward a goal and accepting assistance when needed from others without giving up.
We have a gifted staff with a heart for each student. I see evidence of this every day. In addition to the traditional academic disciplines, we provide therapeutic gardening, Yoga instruction, social skills lessons, as well as individual and group therapy in order to meet the needs of our student population. We have no more than eight students per class so each student receives the individualized attention they need and deserve. We utilize a school wide behavior plan that requires students to reflect on his/her behavior with an instructor throughout the school day. This teaches the importance of personal goal setting, acceptance of rules and limits, consistency, and accountability in striving for success. We provide field trips to broaden our students’ experiences of life beyond their neighborhood. This school year we have partnered with two churches and a fraternity at UNCW. To encourage students and staff they provide mentoring and tutoring as well as other needed resources. Every day is a challenge for our staff and students. I believe the Lord has placed me in this mission field for this season of my life. I will continue to plant the seeds of light and hope and tend the garden one day and one life at a time.
Blog By: Lisa Everette