Courageous Conversations: Please Stay
One of the great joys of my day is getting to sit down with students and hear about their lives. I love hearing about their siblings, pets, families, and (depending on the student...) all the drama in their lives.
I find that my classroom is a place where students feel comfortable opening up and I work hard to make myself available to students whenever they need to talk to an adult about a challenge they're facing.
This spring, I programmed Jake Runestad's beautiful piece "Please Stay". If you don't know it, please listen to it. Jake says: "“Please Stay” is an anthem for hope — an attempt to destigmatize mental illness and challenge all of us to support those who are battling depression and thoughts of suicide. You are not alone. We can make a difference. We can be the support system that saves a life."
In introducing the piece to Chamber Choir, I asked students to grab a note card and share with me a challenge they were facing in their life. It could be small, it could be huge. They would all be anonymous. I told students I would be reading them out loud (unless they wrote not to on the card).
The results were staggering:
"I'm overwhelmed by a full IB course load"
"I struggle with my body. I don't feel pretty"
"I work to support myself and my grandpa"
"Money. I need more money."
"Every day is a struggle to get out of bed"
It was hard to read through. I then wrote on the board: "I have struggled with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Yes or No". Every student, but one, wrote yes.
So. Here I am standing in front of a roomful of teenagers - bright, funny, kind and wonderful teenagers - trying not to cry. It hit hard that we truly don't know what our students are going through and how often I forget to connect with individuals in my rush to rehearse, or memorize or, or, or...
We turned out attention to Please Stay and the concept and message behind it and hit play. After the song finished, every one of us had tears in their eyes. (Except for my principal, who of course, had picked that day to observe!).
We've been working on the piece for several weeks now and students BEG to rehearse it. Not only is it beautiful and wonderful to sing, they love that we stand in a circle and get to sing to each other. I'll confess that it's hard for me to run through. Kids tease me constantly about how easily I get emotional and cry but it's both painful and beautiful to see 28 teenagers laser focused on telling a story.
It has been a challenge, personally, for me to do this piece. Seeing students light up and sing from their hearts makes it worth it.