There are times when I read a book, it makes me think. It makes me cry. It makes me wonder. It makes me want to do something.
Then there are times I read a book while other thoughts in my life are pushing through, and somehow the two things become connected and become life-changing.
I recently read Through the Cracks by Patti Bell. This book tells the story of a young girl in the late 1990's who suffered abuse from her father, a doctor, and her stepmother, a nurse. The abuse was reported by the girl's teacher. But nothing was done.
When the parents began to feel threatened, they would move. And move again, making it difficult for the state to track them.
Sadly, the abuse continued with their second child and ended in murder. The abuse, which came from medical professionals who had taken an oath to protect and take care of people, was so horrific, I can't even begin to tell about it.
The book tells the story of the teacher's suspicions; the reports she made, which were ignored by the very system that was supposed to protect children; and the testimony and events of the murder trial. It tells the story of the sweet little girl who fell through the cracks.
The story began in my own hometown.
Tonight, on the eve of my 12th year of teaching, this story continues to haunt me. As I see commercials and advertisements for school supplies, I can't help but wonder what is really in my students' backpacks. Yes, they come with supplies, but they also carry in those same backpacks abuse, poverty, homelessness, loss, and responsibilities too heavy for young people.
After reading this book, I wonder if I have ever missed a sign. Would I see the signs? Have I had a student who was living the same life of these poor girls in this book? We, as teachers, have such an important responsibility. We not only are responsible for their learning, but so much more.
I have thought a lot about Mrs. Bell and the relationship she had with Danielle, the oldest child and the first to be abused. I truly believe it was this relationship that saved her life. She knew something was wrong. Mrs. Bell saw what was in Danielle's "backpack" and acted on her instincts. Sadly, it was not enough to save Danielle's sister.
As my students arrive this year and as we begin our year of learning together, I know this book and these two girls will continue to linger in my mind. Their stories will challenge me to look inside my students' backpacks. And maybe, just maybe, challenge me to lighten their load.