(This story occurred at Lafayette High School in Fayette County, Kentucky. All other names and places have been changed to maintain confidentiality of the persons involved. )
On Wednesday of last week, I noticed two of my students, Nicki and Victor, discussing something back and forth. They appeared to be arguing over a piece of paper Nicki had in her hand. She’s probably found a note from another girl in his book bag, I thought.
It was the last period of the day about three minutes before the bell. I was tired and wanted to go home too, but I wandered over.
“Is there a problem here?” I said.
“I’m going to give this to Mrs. Prather,” Nicki said to Victor, who rolled his eyes. Nicki stuck out her hand with the note. “Here. Victor found this in the hall, and he thinks it’s nothing, but it might be something.”
I took the paper and unfolded it.
“Dear Dad,” it began. It was a letter of heartbreak, chronicling a life of neglect, a father in jail and an absent mother. No signature, written lightly in pencil. The thing that caught my eye, as it had caught Victor and Nicki’s, was the writer’s intent to end his life this weekend.
I have nothing to live for. No one wants me.
“I thought you could do something,” Nicki said.
“No name on it. It could be anybody’s.”
“That’s what Victor said.”
“There are 2000 kids in this school. Did you just find it in the hall?”
I re-read it. “It might even be an assignment for English.”
“I know,” Nicki said. “But it might not.”
Just then the bell rang. My students filed out.
I re-read it again and noticed something. In the middle of the letter, the writer mentioned how the only person who cared for him was “Mr. Kraft.”
On the way to my car, I stopped off at the counseling office. One counselor was still in her office. Kendra was busy, a stack of files on her desk.
“This is a long shot and I don’t even know if this is serious,” I said. I gave her the note, and she read it.
“Wow. Who is this Mr. Kraft?”
“I don’t know.”
“He could be anybody. A teacher, a boss, someone at church.”
“Yeah, I know.” I looked at the clock. I was anxious to get home. “I just thought I’d pass it along to you.”
“Thanks.” Kendra eyeballed her stack of work. “I’ll see what I can do. Maybe this Mr. Kraft is a teacher in our district.”
With that, I left school. If the note was authentic, his life – the details that the writer had mentioned— was more than any child should have to endure. Because I teach writing, I read a lot of student stories, and they all carry the burden of some kind of pain – poverty, divorce, addiction, depression, alienation, bullying. Some are real. A lot are merely venting exercises.
Driving home, I hoped this kid was just writing to get the pain off his chest. I hoped he wasn’t serious about ending his life. I asked God to keep him safe, whoever and wherever he was.
The next morning, there was an email in my inbox from Kendra. She and another counselor, Stephanie, had found him.
“I just wanted you to know. I did some investigating and I found a Mr. Kraft at Wilson Downing Middle School. He’s a seventh grade Social Studies teacher,” she’d written. “I emailed him, and he knew who the student was. The counselor at Wilson Downing had actually contacted Stephanie last week. The student is being taken care of.”
During my first year in Fayette County, the district brought Manny Scott to speak in Rupp Arena to its 6000 employees. Mr. Scott was one of the original Freedom Writers, a group of kids who had been labeled “unteachable” until teacher Erin Gruwell used writing journals to transform their lives and chronicled their journey in the bestselling book, The Freedom Writer’s Diary.
Manny Scott is now a sought-after motivational speaker, and the day he came to our district, his message was titled “The Power of One.” His message to the teachers, the bus drivers, the administrators, the adults was simple: You have the power as an individual to change someone’s life. (Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/11/17/2937224_rise-from-poverty-inspires-motivational.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy)
The story of this note proves Mr. Scott’s maxim. Last Wednesday, the power of one, or a series of ones, saved a child from his own despair.
Every single person who passed that note down the chain was needed. From Victor picking up the note, to Nicki to giving it to me, to me handing it off to Kendra, to Kendra tracking down Mr. Kraft, to Mr. Kraft having created a relationship with a child that went beyond Social Studies, to Stephanie who contacted the child’s counselor, to the counselor connecting with the child and executing services on his behalf.
The power of one plus one plus one equals all of us.
Sitting in my chair, I looked around at the 40 desks in my classroom. Every single desk represented a precious life, a unique story, a life full of joy and hope and promise. Every One was important. Every single one.