Dear Catalena

Dear Catalena,

Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. They are grown people with their own thoughts, feelings and reasons for walking away from this marriage.

I am so very sorry that your parents’ relationship is breaking up. That you have to hear them fight when you are trying to do your homework. That you eat dinner in your room now, with your door closed and your music playing, trying to pretend it isn’t happening.

Many aspects of your life feel out of your control right now, and in most ways, you’re right. You can’t keep your parents together. You can’t prevent them from fighting.

But you are not completely powerless.

You have control over your own thoughts, actions and reactions. You can choose to bottle all of these emotions inside and let your friendships, grades and family life suffer. Or, you can open up to trusted adults and friends, just as you did today, and talk about what’s going on.

Your parents love you. Don’t confuse their pain with the lie that they no longer care about your well-being. Much of your world is shifting, but their love for you is unchanged.

I am here for you in this transition, and I want to be as supportive as possible.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Hernandez

education, photography

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”- Muriel Rukeyser

Dear Hernandez,

One of my favorite moments so far this year happened on Friday, as you dashed out of my classroom for Spring Break.

“Miss, can I borrow a few books to read next week? I just really can’t stop thinking about Kira and Matty, and I was wondering if maybe I could borrow the whole series…”

Do you remember the little boy who hated reading? The boy who despised being called on to read aloud in front of the entire class?

Can you believe he’s grown into a young man who wants to spend his Spring Break reading an entire book series?

Your passion for reading has reignited mine. Thank you for reminding me of the glorious feeling of being wrapped up tightly in the lives of fictional characters that are nothing and yet everything like our own.

Enjoy The Giver series. Yes, I actually want you to read for the fun of it! Don’t stress over vocabulary and plot development. Soak in the beauty of the words etched onto the page. Immerse yourself in a foreign land and time, allowing Jonas, Kira and Matty to lead you on a journey.

I can’t wait to sit down with you next week and discuss the parts that made us laugh, cry and wonder about the wide world all around us.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Chellise

Dear Chellise,

Day after day, you set a positive example for your peers. I watch you tirelessly follow the rules, typically with a smile on your face.

But, ultimately, we’re all human. We all make choices, and occasionally, mistakes.

I have two younger sisters. We’ve always been the best of friends, but there have been moments when we haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye.

When I was in first grade, my sister Lauren was in kindergarten. She was learning to spell her name, and I was learning to tie my shoes. Life was pretty simple back then. One day, we got into a petty argument over one of my Barbie dolls.

Ten minutes later, stewing in time-out, I eyed the wooden coffee table in arm’s reach. My mind reeled with the injustice of the situation. It was my doll. My right to play with her whenever I wanted to. Why was I sitting in timeout?

I picked up a pen, leaned over the coffee table and slowly, methodically, began carving…

This morning, when you walked into school, you had a decision to make.

Leave the iPhone in your pocket? Or follow school policy and turn it in at the front desk?

Were you simply tired of doing the right thing, making a purposeful choice to keep the phone with you? Or was it an accident? Did you honestly forget that you still had it?

My mom’s gasp reverberated throughout the house.

“Lauren Merrill Jackson, come here immediately.”

Unsuspecting, cheerful Lauren skipped into the living room. Six letters carved with kindergarten-esque penmanship marred the coffee table.

A shrill, clipped noise jarred my otherwise silent classroom. Students erupted into chaos.

“A phone, miss!”

“Somebody tryin’ to cheat!”

I let it go on too long: Lauren’s insistence that she did not carve her own name into the table and my mom’s bewildered investigation.

Sitting in my room, playing with the coveted Barbie doll, I felt prideful, even elated, that I had found the most clever way to get back at my sister for attempting to steal my toy, my fun.

I heard Lauren start to sniffle, as she promised over and over that she didn’t commit this outrageous deed.

Something inside my cold, dark heart began to melt.

Am I the kind of person who does something like this? I wondered aloud to the plastic, too perfect, 12-inch friend in my hand.

The weight of that cell phone was heavy, wasn’t it?

The glow of the screen illuminated who you are and what decisions you make under pressure.

Is this what I want to be known for? Cheating on a quiz?

“I carved her name in the table,” my voice, dripping with shame, cut through the tension in the living room.

I had to drop the emotional weight I was carrying, even though I knew it would be painful and embarrassing. I had been cruel; I had lied. But I didn’t want to be that person anymore. So I confessed, and I traded my guilt for a just punishment.

You are not a liar. You proved that today when you were the first student in the cellphone cheating scandal to step forward.

Two other students have also admitted that they were involved, following your positive example yet again.

Believe it or not, my mom still has that coffee table. It’s covered with a white, lacy tablecloth, a symbol that my egregious sin was forgiven. But sometimes, Lauren and I move the lamp and the stack of heavy books, fold up the tablecloth and run our fingers along the curves of the letters of her name.

This decision will follow you. Just like the scarred coffee table, you won’t ever be able to completely erase this mistake, but you certainly can move forward.

In college, you can be removed from a class or expelled from a university altogether for cheating. Let being caught in the 6th grade be your ruined coffee table. Let it be a reminder to you that a decision to lie, cheat and not be true to yourself is never worth it.

Remember who you are and who you are not.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Rosa

Dear Rosa,

I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Riveting and suspenseful, the book is one of my new favorites, and I would highly recommend that you read it.

One of the main characters, Werner, is a young German boy growing up in the shadows of Hitler’s Third Reich. Werner is a genius – an expert at fixing radios and solving math and science problems. His dream is to become one of Germany’s leading scientists, but as war ravages Europe, his plans must be put on hold, as he is required to fight.

At one point, his commanding officer, watching Werner repair equipment with brilliance and speed, remarks sadly, “What you could be.”

I had a moment today where the same wondering floated to my mind as you creatively and analytically approached the final details of your group project.

What you could be.

…If you dumped your deplorable boyfriend.

…If you hadn’t texted him a revealing picture of yourself.

…If you believed that you deserved more than a 12-year-old boy who would exploit you by sharing that photo with his friends.

What you could be.

An 11-year-old in healthy relationships her friends and her family.

A student on the path to college and greater opportunity.

A young woman who defies the stereotypes about “girls from this neighborhood.”

What you can be.

It’s not too late. You can still be all of those things and so much more than anything I’ve dreamed up for you. What’s holding you back? Do you believe you deserve more than this? That you could be, can be so much more?

I know you’re not facing Hitler’s Germany. But you are facing internal obstacles that are challenging nonetheless. More than determining whether you are in love with a young man, you are also learning how to love and respect yourself.

What you could be is ultimately up to you. Who are you today? Who are you becoming?

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Taye

education, photography

Dear Taye,

In the awkward moment of calm after the chaos today, I slowly surveyed the classroom. Jerome was perched in his desk, knees by his face, turned toward the back of the room. Lincoln’s head hung low, as he squeezed a torn paper in his fist. Nikkya, Amber and Marcela were crying softly, and the echoes of my unpleasant tirade made the room feel thick with anger.

“Man! This would’ve never happened in my old class!

Your voice, stronger and clearer than I’ve ever heard it, sliced through the frustration in the room.

“I want to learn things!”

I could not contain my disbelief. In a matter of minutes, you transformed from a whiny, often off-task preteen from my 2nd period class into a scholar-leader of 3rd period. I have never heard you say that you want to learn.

Looking a Jerome, still contorted in the desk in front of you, you became a young man of conviction and leadership.

“Come on man, you need to get serious! Face the front!”

Jerome giggled awkwardly but refused to budge, while the rest of us held our breath in admiration of your courage and conviction.

“Now, come on. You know how to do this. Put your feet under your desk! Get with it. Sit up straight! Look at the teacher! Man, this is baby stuff. Move it.”

Not only did Jerome listen to you and change his actions, but did you notice that Lincoln lifted his head and dropped his paper? Even Julian straightened up and faced the front.

I couldn’t have done a better job of getting the class back on task. In fact, you showed more maturity and leadership than I did today. I let the frustration get to me, and I yelled. You took the same emotion and calmly but firmly addressed the class as one of their own and simultaneously as a leader who was ready to rise above pettiness and learn.

Honestly, I was initially against the schedule change that caused you to move to this class. As you witnessed today, there is a unique blend of personalities in this room that can bring out the worst. Or, in your case, bring out the best.

I am proud of you, inspired by you and thankful that you are in this class. I promise that you will learn in 3rd period. We all will, with your help.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson