A story of resilience, a call to listen

Filed Under: Blog

By Donalda Brantley, member of the Washington state Board of Education

Education is an essential component of a child’s life. Unfortunately, in most cases educational journeys are interrupted by unexpected life events and changes. Some students experience a more difficult and stressful life than one should. It is important to not only acknowledge but to understand and act on your knowledge of these concerns and issues so that students not just in Washington but all around can get the proper support and care they need to enjoy and succeed in their educational career.

For many students including me, life can seem like a long cycle of stress and worry. Wake up, go to school, go to practice, and sometimes go to work. Some students are unsure of their next meal, their parents/guardian’s reactions, where they’re going to sleep and, how things are going to work out in their life (the OSPI report card shows some information about the number of Washington students experiencing some of these challenges). This causes a lot of stress and anxiety on top of the challenges from school and other activities. This amount of distress can cause distraction and decrease in performance inside and outside of school. What many peers and teachers fail to realize is that despite all of the challenges going on in a student’s life, they are still trying.

Thousands of students feel instability within their homes every day and many stories are unheard of or overlooked because students lack resources or feel uncomfortable reaching out because they do not feel heard. Many friends and peers who have dealt with similar experiences have encouraged me to be brave enough to share my experiences.

Although it is hard to hear that students are going through these types of struggles, it is more important to know the truth and how to help students going through issues at home. Sharing my own experiences and struggles has been difficult and uncomfortable, but if I’m able to reach others who may be going through similar experiences then I’m happy to do so. Growing up in a low-income and toxic home environment, school became an escape for me as it does for many students. When I was younger, I remember teachers stating, “Be mindful during this break that if you need anything you can always contact the school.” Beyond the excitement of getting a break, it was not until I was older that I understood what they meant. Uncertainty and difficulty with money and food caused more arguments and toxicity within my home. My own pride and disappointment made things more difficult. Unfortunately, for me it was not until my senior year that I felt I had the courage, support, and strength to leave my toxic home.

I moved in with another family all while managing my FAFSA, sports, school, applying to colleges/scholarships, work, and my mental health. Regardless of the circumstances of my life, I never stopped trying. My attitude and behavior may have been negatively affected, but I continued to work through it. I was lucky to have built a relationship with many of my teachers and peers who were there to support me and continue to do so through this time in my life. For many other students this is not the case. Although it is more common than you think for students to struggle with instability and disconnection from their home, it is often not mentioned because of how uncomfortable and difficult it is to talk about and deal with. Even for me, who has close relationships with friends and supportive adults, it was difficult to reach out and get help. I want my fellow students to know this: despite what is going on, you should always reach out for help and never be afraid to speak up for yourself.

Without the resources and people around me who helped me have the courage to speak up for myself and ask for help, I would not have been able to continue excelling in school, sports, and work.

The most common thing people told me was to continue living life as a teenager. Do not give up on my sports, do not give up on work and school. This meant to me that I am bigger than my issues, and I am more than just my past toxic household. I did not let these circumstances stand in the way of my education and my future. Although I am unsure of where I am headed, I know I am capable of doing great things regardless of my past. I know I am capable of achieving my goals and career aspirations because I am strong and resilient. Most importantly, I know I am not alone.