I have a fish tank in my office. Right now it has only two fish. It could use one more. When students come into my office they want to feed them and I let them. Preschool students to high school students like to gaze at them. The soft sound of the bubbler is calming. If you put your finger to the glass of the tank one of them will come check it out. If you move your finger the fish will follow. This fish has been given many names.
“What is his name?” a student asked.
“I don’t know. What should we call him?” I ask.
“Nemo” one student suggests, and then she calls him Nemo every time she comes in. “He is my pet fish but he lives here,” she said. I promise to take good care of him.
“Buggy” another student calls him. The fish is a fantail black goldfish. He has big eyes.
“Someday,” a high schooler names him. I look at her quizzically. “I’m going to get a fish someday,” she laughs. So she named him Someday. When she comes to my office she feeds Someday, and we feed the hope that she will have a place stable enough to have a fish…someday.
“Sam” another student names him. “Why Sam?” I ask. “Because Sam is the name of the dog we used to have when we had a house. We had to give him away so the fish can have his name now,” she explains. She comes to visit Sam sometimes when she is angry. She comes to visit him here in my office and well…since she is here…she might as well talk about what angered her. Sam is a good listener.
The trauma and pain of homelessness is more than you know.
Beth McCullough is the McKinney-Vento homeless liaison for Adrian Public Schools in Adrian, MI. She has created many innovative initiatives for homeless children and youth in her community, including “Roadmap to Graduation,” one of the nation’s first Host Homes programs for unaccompanied homeless youth. In 2012, she was named a White House “Champion for Change.”
For the past seven years, Beth has written an essay a week about her experiences working with students experiencing homelessness. The essays comprise her “Sanity Project:” managing the stress of a homeless liaison’s job through detailed, astute observations, and sometimes uncomfortable reflections. We are honored that Beth has agreed to share her essays as part of our Guest Perspectives blog.