It all begins with the nervous phone call or email (on average 1 or 2 a week). The script is nearly identical for most. “My child is really smart, but miserably unhappy, anxious, depressed, not eating, etc. They are beginning to act out in ways they never have before. They are rarely attending school, or are going to the nurses (guidance office) and calling me after an hour to come and get them. The principal is calling every day and threatening to call (or already has) CPS to report truancy. They are recommending my child be admitted to the Psych. Center. I just don’t know what to do, but I just want my child back and “X” told me that you could help.” In very few cases, the parent has already decided that Deep Root Center and homeschooling is the answer and just want to get everything set up.
My first job, in every single case, is to simply listen on the other end of the phone, offer reassuring murmurs every once in a while, and schedule an appointment. Currently, within that conversation, I have to let them know that Deep Root Center is full; however, I can still help them as a homeschool consultant.
Then we meet. Frequently, my initial impression is an anxious parent (usually Mom) with a quiet, subdued child (or, teen) in tow. After introductions, I either give them a tour or invite them to sit in our “chill space” (living room area) to talk. Upon making sure they are comfy, my opening question is always, “how can I help you?” The responses vary but generally center around their stories. I won’t begin to try to repeat the heartbreaking tales I hear. However, most focus on a child’s needs not being met, multiple failed attempts (by the parent) to advocate for their child and resolve the situation within the system, and their ultimate frustration in dealing with a coercive, dismissive, inflexible, and intimidating authority figure.
By the time a child and a parent are sitting in the DRC “chill space” telling me their story, they are just plain-old tired from dealing with people who won’t listen, and an establishment that is so very entrenched in decades-old methodology that it can’t see the harm they are inflicting on those they are supposed to serve. They are exhausted, at their wit's end, and utterly frightened of leaving a system that tells them that their child will fail life if they opt-out.
My main task, besides writing the NYS required IHIP with the child dictating (which often involves me lightly prodding and asking tons of questions to determine exactly what they want to do), in each of these encounters is tell both the parent(s) and child (teen) that they are going to be absolutely fine. In fact, they will thrive. Most look at me as if I am completely off my rocker - crazy.
Nevertheless, the only thing they really need from me, in that moment, is permission to breathe and to take time to heal. "Yes, everything is going to be OK. Disregard the state mandated curriculum – it is total b*llsh*t anyway. Everything they teach in school can be contained in one small, hackneyed, constraining, dull, and boring box. The world of knowledge is infinite and it is all yours for the taking. First - rest! Then - go! Explore! Open your mind to all the possibilities!”
With those few words, I see (parent and child’s) shoulders dropping, a hint of a smile, and a deep breath. By the time we get to this point, the young person is walking around, exploring the space, asking questions, and engaging comfortably in the conversation. Oftentimes, they both hesitate to end the meeting, because they don’t want to leave the safety of the little cocoon we have spun together. They continue to ask questions, seek reassurance a million times, and then, ever so gently, I remind them (while shepherding them toward the door), “Yes, you are, both, going to be fine. Go out there and be awesome. And, if you need anything, I am only an email away.”
As you have heard, here, several times this Fall, Deep Root Center's Canton facility at 48 Riverside Dr. is at capacity. Hence the above conversations have been extremely hard for me - knowing that I cannot, immediately, offer kids, who need us, a place at DRC. The waiting list now has 13 kids on it.
That will all be changing very soon, when we open a new Center in Lawrenceville (on the eastern- most edge of St. Lawrence County) to be called DRC - East. We will share details as things develop over the next couple months. The plan right now is for it to be open in January when we return from Holiday break - exactly six years after opening our Pilot Program in Canton. Stay tuned for more awesomeness from DRC!