High School Wisdom
The office they provided me at the high school was large enough to allow group counseling. The windowless, cinder block walls had once been used as a classroom but, before me, was the office of a therapist, like myself, who had worked with teens with emotional problems. She had encouraged the kids to write on the painted concrete with marker pens, naming it the "Wonder Wall." They had left their creations, sometimes signed, for posterity. I wasn't terribly impressed at first with the mostly positive aphoreisms but when the students I was seeing insisted on continuing the practice, I grudgingly obliged.,
The group, originally structured to deal with anxiety disoders and teach resilience, grew rapidly in size,but evolved in directions I had not anticipated. They resisted my attempts at structure and the teaching of coping strategies, opting instead for a venue to reveal their problems at home and in school, and often their pain. Stories of rejection, abuse, criticism, drug involvement, and often poor parenting or absent parents became commonplace. We learned of parents in prison, separations, divorce, moms on the street, alcoholism and substance abuse. Their problems, revealed only after promises of privacy and confidentiality, drew the participants together.
Bonding, tears, hugging and mutual support made the group popular and we were flooded with new referrals. I also bonded with the students and learned to respect their efforts at coping.They unanimously agreed that they wore masks to school, playing a role to gain social acceptance. The group was predominently female. It was hard to get guys to participate and destroy their image as tough, cool, and independent. Anger and depression were ever present. I allowed them to use any language they needed to express themselves. but tried hard, sometimes in vain, to minimize obscenity. Problems with boys who cheated on them or dumped them for someone else were frequent.
The kids were no angels. Many had boyfriends and were sexially active. They "partied" on weekends and it was clear many drank and smoked weed at these parties. Several of the girls used cutting as a way, they explained, of translating emotional to physical pain. Sometimes they wound up in the Crisis Centers of the local psychiatric hospitals. I made it clear that I would violate confidentiality only if they appeared to be a danger to themselves or others. Few of the students who had been admitted to psychiatric hoispitals in the past had kind words to say about them. The hospital provided safety and medication and sometimes brief counseling.
Sometimes the students abused the group, using it as a social experience or to get out of class. Several teachers complained that I was interfering with their teaching efforts. I tried to avoid taking the students out of the same class repeatedly but I also felt that the counseling was as important as conjugating Spanish verbs or solving quadratic equations. Somehow I reached a balance in providing counseling without excessively jeaopardizing their coursework. I began to read the walls more carefully.
."I got soul but I'm not a soldier."
"You can be sad they they're gone but you can smile thay they lived"
"Tomoorrow is another day."
The only time success comes after work is in the dictionary,"
"You got haters? It means you stood for something in life."
"We may make it through the war if we make it through the night."
"Leave the past and find your future."
"I think things fall apart so better things can take their place."
"In the end it will be OK. If it's not OK it's not the end."
"It's better to count the things that aren't wrong than to count the things that are."
"Someday, somehow we're gonna' make things right, but not right now."
"I guess it's gonna have to hurt;.I guess I'm gonna have to cry and let go of some things I love to get to the other side."
"Everything that matters is life."
"Don't wait for the storm to pass. Learn to dance inn the rain."
"Life is like a mirror. You get the best results when you smile."
In light of the severity of most of the problems being revealed in group, the wall etchings were remarkably positive. I don't know that the group made any effort to apply the positive attitude and advice they gave to no one in particular, but at least they understand the need to be positive and to impart that attitude to others in trouble
The high school is undergoing a multi-million dollar construction project. Last year the room, wall, and wisdom were destroyed. I still run groups and many of last year's students are again involved.
They are a year older than when we started and maybe a smidgen wiser. They were upset that their writing did not survive. I have a shiny new office now with clean, painted white walls. I don't allow them to write on it. There is a white board but they have shown no interest. They know their efforts will be erased. I told them I would write about the group someday. They want it to be a reality TV show.