In 2009 Pine Cove sent teams of their summer staff out to work in the community of Tyler during orientation week. A couple dozen college students and I were given an address and told to clean up the area around a school, but also to hang out with the kids who would be just getting out of school when we arrived. We cleaned up a little bit of litter, but mostly had a blast with the kids. We danced, kicked around the soccer ball and got to give away a week of camp to one kid. When we left I had no clue where we were and definitely didn’t think I’d ever be back.
Turns out… that school was Peete Elementary.
Peete isn’t on the other side of the railroad tracks, it’s ON the railroad tracks. You can hear and practically feel the rumble of a freight pass by multiple times a day. Each day when I turn out of the neighborhood and make my way up the hill to the school, I’m faced with the harsh irony that the school literally is on “Hurt Avenue.”
Since it’s been a while since I’ve update the blog, I feel like I should explain. Back in November, I began teaching music at Peete where I teach every student at the school, Kindergarten-5th grade. I started mid-year and had my work seriously cut out for me. Some of our students come from really consistent and stable home lives, but most do not. While I was looking forward to the impact that I knew I could make on the lives of our students, I was really fearful of my inadequacy. I was in for major culture shock and wasn’t very confident about my content area. I haven’t talked a lot on social media or my blog about working at Peete because, honestly, I was afraid of failing or even bailing… and it being public knowledge.
Here we are at the end of the year and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I won’t ever see some of these kids again. Their lives are so transient, we don’t know who will be back for sure and who will move away. On the last day of school, one of my students wouldn’t look me in the eye all day. This isn’t too abnormal for him, but we have a friendship and I kept reminding him that he needed to come give me a hug before he left. At the end of the day he still hadn’t spoken a word to me and I was little worried that I wouldn’t get to say goodbye. As my group of students lined up to walk home, my friend came sprinting down the hallway. He shoved a construction paper card in my hand, hugged me super quick and ran the other way. At the end of the hall he yelled back, “I love you Mrs. Garner!” I quickly read the handwritten, tragically misspelled, but truly heartfelt words of this little boy and completely lost it in the middle of the hall.
I’ve questioned whether I made the right choice dozens of times this year. I went back and forth, looking for a “good” reason to opt out and couldn’t find one. The simple fact was the Lord called me to a difficult place and I had a lot to learn. This year has been humbling. It has been heartbreaking and extremely frustrating.
But man, has it been satisfying.
This year I have had Psalm 34:8 in my head often,
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
It has been one of the toughest years I’ve ever had, but it has been good. And Lord-willing, I’ll be back again in the fall at Peete. I’ll be excited to see my students and will walk in the confidence that the Lord is a good and trustworthy refuge for me, and those children who need him desperately.