There was an article recently in the local paper about a man who, ten years ago when he was a student at my old high school, was shown some kindness by one of the deans. She gave him a winter coat, which he desperately needed, and now that kindness is proving fruitful as the young man is helping with Unit 4's Warm-A-Kid drive. The effort is seeking to provide coats for kids who need them this winter. Check it out.
All of this reminded me of the kindness and attention visited upon me by another of Champaign Centennial High School's finest deans. I refer, of course, to Mrs. Nicole Storch. She was dean long before my time at the school, and retired while I was there, much to my dismay. It's true that I've had lots of teachers whose influence and teaching style made a difference, but only one dean truly made a difference during my time in public school. I probably owe my sanity and perseverance to the efforts of this woman.
Public school --- and particularly high school --- wasn't always a pleasant experience. I'm heartened by all of the national attention being paid to bullying these days, because I certainly lived through it. Not sure why, but I seemed to attract a lot of attention from peers at school, and not the good kind. Because I was bi-racial? Gay? Too tall? Too fat? Who knows the reasons. I'd paid a few ok classmates in grade school to protect me from bullies. When one of their parents told my parents, it wasn't a happy week at my house. Things went downhill during middle school, and high school was the worst.
During freshman year, two upperclassmen decided to have fun in the boys' locker room, at my expense. Pretending to be gay and interested, they chased me across the locker room, calling-out my name and putting their hands on me. No one did anything to help. Afterwards, I went to my dean, and Mrs. Storch whirled into action. She seemed visibly upset that this had gone down. She talked with people, collected information, and her justice was swift. The two boys were on the school basketball team. They were suspended from school and from some of the games. They were also star players. Kids who love a winning school team can be cruel in their retribution to the classmate responsible for the players' suspension.
Unfortunately, life at high school didn't improve much over the next four years. Trays full of food would be slammed out of my hands and onto the floor at the cafeteria. Basketballs would be purposefully thrown into my head at point-blank range. Fellow students would say rude and hurtful things under their breath to me during class. There's more, but I'll stop there. Mrs. Storch did what she could. And I mean, really, she did everything at her disposal to ensure I had as good of an experience in high school as possible. But one woman can only do so much.
And then she retired.
My senior year of high school was too much. The bullying continued, only this time, in Mrs. Storch's absence, it took all three deans working together to try and keep me afloat. It wasn't enough. I'm not a violent person. Never have been. I detest it. But I knew I was in danger of becoming violent against the bullies if something didn't change. It was therefore decided that I would finish high school (the last semester of it) on home-bound education. I graduated, but didn't attend the graduation ceremonies. There was zero desire to do so.
It could be argued that Mrs. Storch was just doing her job, yet I've seen that just doing your job isn't always an equal effort across the board. Some folks are better at it than others. Some have more passion for it than others. Mrs. Storch was great at her job, and she had passion to spare. I don't know if I'd have made it through high school without here there the first few years. When she later ran for Unit 4 School Board, I was proud to vote for her. Judging from the election results, so were plenty of other people.
There's an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street where one of the detectives, despondent with the state of affairs, muses, "The world would be a great place, if it was just kids and dogs." I've never agreed with that opinion. Kids have their plusses, but they also have a tremendous capacity for cruelty. I've witnessed it (and don't pretend not to have been guilty of it, myself). So, dogs? Yes, sure. But I'd settle for a world of Mrs. Storches, too. And our world lost something when she passed away. Thankfully, she was here for those who needed her. I am living proof of that.