My name is Taeyah and I’m a sophomore. My dream is to join the Marine Corps, and to take on the challenge of becoming a female drill instructor. I also just started the early college program because, even though I don’t know yet if I want to go to college, I know it’s better to be prepared.
I’m excited for my future, but there was a time in my life when I didn’t feel as I do now. I could be in this room, full of people, and I would feel completely alone. I struggled with my mental health and I was bullied. Because of all I’ve been through, I would do everything I could to avoid people. I’d just stay in my bubble where I felt safe. For students like me, emotions sometimes take over your mind. If you can’t let them out, you might crash and burn. That’s not a good feeling, especially if you’re with a teacher you don’t really trust or if you’re with students that you don’t know. This made school difficult because, if you don’t fully feel emotionally stable in a class, you can’t learn.
The 7th grade was a particularly difficult moment in my life. When I connected with a school adjustment counsellor, that started to change. He helped me understand–perhaps for the first time–what it means to have a safe and supportive school environment. He became the person I trusted, the person I could come to and say, “Look. I did it. My grades are good,” or “I finally found a new coping skill so I won’t do this or I won’t do that,” or “Me and this teacher are now closer.”
He listened to me. I was grateful for it. When you have anxiety, you’re always going to feel like you’re a burden to someone. This is especially difficult at school because, as students, some of us spend more time with teachers and counselors than we do with our own families. They are the people who teach us and help set us up for our futures. We want to feel understood and accepted. With this counselor, I didn’t feel like a burden. Instead, I felt safe, supported, and most importantly, heard. But, I wasn’t in a school where the staff worked together and shared responsibility for every student. I only had a connection with him and no other staff. So when this counselor left, I felt as if I was once again on a broken bridge, alone, and no one could cross to help. Without that emotional support or the ability to trust other staff members, it became hard to concentrate in the classroom.
But in 9th grade, I found a new safe space, JROTC. It’s my favorite class. I’m passionate about it because now, as a platoon commander, I get to lead and help show others you can make good decisions. I feel completely comfortable because I have such a close relationship with my gunnery sergeant and my first sergeant. They are so accepting, and they understand that not every cadet is at the same physical achievement level. Not every cadet is at the same leadership level. But, as teachers, they help you build confidence and grow into something more than you were before you entered into the program. For example, when I first joined, I wasn’t as physically fit as I am now. I’d struggle on runs, but Gunny just stayed by my side. He’d tell me that if I couldn’t run, to just walk as fast as possible, to just keep trying. I knew that no matter what, he would be there to support me and would never give up on me. It was a small thing, but sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.
Unfortunately, not every student has access to their own safe space at school, and that should change. I feel that one of the best ways to make sure this happens is to listen to students when we share what we need to feel safe and supported.
I’m here today, sharing these experiences, because I hope that all students can be in a school that makes them feel safe, supported, and listened to, the way I feel now when I’m in JROTC. I hope you will help me do that by continuing to support safe and supportive schools and by including student voices like mine when considering what it means to be a safe and supportive school and when working to pass future legislation. Thank you.
From a Zoom Interview with Taeyah
“I knew that no matter what, he would be there to support me and would never give up on me. It was a small thing, but sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.” —Taeyah
“As students, some of us spend more time with teachers and counselors than we do with our own families. They are the people who teach us and set us up for our futures.” —Taeyah
This website is dedicated to the valuable lessons we can learn from students’ own experiences about how to create better schools. Decisions about schooling are often made without listening deeply to students themselves. But students are in the best position to understand what they need in order to do well in school.
A collaboration of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC). LEARN MORE