Monday, May 04, 2009

18 Days

That is how long I have left at my current school (counting only school days) before it closes permanently. I am both relieved and frightened by that day count. (We've had one other school in the district close this week for the flu epidemic, and I've joked that I wish our school would so I would have even fewer days.) I picked up a handful of new kids on my case load toward the end of this school year. Most of them are kindergartners with very difficult behaviors. I am doing my best to support the children, hopefully teach them some skills and alleviate the stress of the teachers, but I don't feel like much can be accomplished in a month to two months. Plus, in the summer it is so hard to engage the families that I work with and maintain consistent treatment. It's maintenance- that feels like that is all I can do at this point for some of my families. For the ones who are engaged and really want my services, it is different, but that is a small percentage.

I was feeling edgy all day yesterday and I think my anxiety is increasing about all the factors that will come with the closure of this school that has been open for I believe 75-100 years. It is one of the last components holding together a community that is falling apart. Like many communities on the East side and other parts of Indianapolis that used to be considered thriving, the area surrounding my school is overloaded with gun and gang violence, drugs, and an ever increasing lack of respect for people and buildings surrounding the area. It seems at least weekly there is a gun fatality in the neighborhood over the past two months. Many of the kids I work with seem to always somehow be related to each person killed. (There's a lot of intermingling between couples, I do believe. Everyone is every one's cousin.)

Any important community components such as central shopping/grocery and the fire station have all been long shut down. Even the Village Pantry, the local convenient store mecca, was shut down last year. Hence the reason really for the school closing. As much as Dr. White, the school district's superintendent does things and makes decisions that I am not happy with, I understand the economics of the school closures. Eight schools last year and six this year, mostly due to lowering enrollments and budget restraints.

But there is such a personal side to this. 300 teachers, nine of them nominated for teacher of the year, are slated to be laid off. Many teachers that could are not retiring because of the losses in their retirement savings and changes in retirement packages offered by IPS. The teachers who have only worked one to three years are the teachers most at risk to lose their jobs. For the families that live in the community, some of them went to the school that their child now attends. While there seems an ambivalence in some neighborhoods, our closure meeting with the superintendent was one of the highest attended by families and one of the most heated. There are those who remain in this neighborhood because it is a part of who they are; they do have a sense of community. And now that is all being essentially lost with the closure of the school.

So, following that tangent, there in lies some of my anxiety. I am worried about this community in general. I worry that the kids I love have no real safe place to go for leisure and positive experiences. I worry that as the school exits, the community is essentially left with nothing to hold on to.

On a personal level and in working with the kids on my caseload, I worry about the kids I know I will have a hard time keeping up with in the summer and what they will be up to without positive support. I worry about the kids I have had in treatment for more than two years, but still need ongoing support (They will be transferred to new therapists at their new schools, but we social workers know how these disruptions can interrupt the treatment progress and consistency.) I worry about how this last month will be for me, for them, for the teachers as we all essentially say goodbye to each other.

On a selfish level, I am worried about the fact that the Case Manager on my team will move to a new part of our organization and I will be managing my entire caseload on my own this summer. I worry about the transition of transferring all my current clients to their new schools in the fall while at the same time picking up a full case load at a new school location. I worry about feeling like the new guy at the new school location and having to acclimate to a new principal, new teachers and how they operate. But, that also may be an advantage for me to start fresh in a few areas with the new school, especially now that I have improved my skills in the past year when it comes to dealing with difficult administrations.

And I have it easy, really. Many of the teachers at my school have been teaching in the same classroom for 20, 30 years or more. I can't imagine the roller coaster of emotions they have gone through as they pack up essentially their lives and move to new schools, which they had to reinterview for to keep their jobs. The closure for them will be leaps and bounds beyond what I am contemplating.

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