It All Started with a Piece of Gum…

Susan Jones

Karen was a student from the alternative middle school who stood out to me. There was just something about her that indicated she was an adolescent in pain. She displayed a tough exterior as she walked, and sometimes ran, in the hallways. She often engaged in verbal and physical conflicts with others. I remembered seeing her in the gymnasium playing basketball. I told her how impressed I was with her ball handling and asked if she was playing on a team from her home district. She was not, and I wasn’t really surprised by her answer.

As the school year progressed, I continued to see Karen. With her protected exterior, she was trying to keep anyone from getting too close. Although she wasn’t part of our program, it seemed she was struggling and could possibly benefit from positive interactions.

During the school day, I would often wear an apron that had pockets sewn into it. I wanted to make sure gum, sticky notes, pens, pencils, and positive reinforcement tickets were in close proximity to be able to give away when there was an opportunity. One day, I walked with a student of mine to the van that would take a group of kids to an after school program. Karen was sitting in the front seat. I offered my student a piece of gum for the long ride and then asked Karen if she wanted one. She didn’t answer at first or even turn around to acknowledge me. I asked her again, and she responded, “What?”  I repeated, “I was wondering, would you like a piece of gum?” She appeared a little confused by my question but took it. She was polite and thanked me but then turned right back around in her seat. I wondered if she seemed confused because I offered her a piece of gum without any expectations. The fact that she accepted it sparked a little hope. This interaction was the beginning of “the dance.” Chambers and Freado note that one of the first steps in engaging a youth is to meet her wherever she is (Chambers & Freado, 2015).

After this small interchange, I was determined to consistently greet Karen in the hallway. If I walked my student to the van and Karen was there, I always offered her a piece of gum. One day, Karen approached me in the hallway and asked if I had a piece of gum. Of course I did!  Another day, she appeared at the doorway to my classroom and asked if I had a piece of gum. I gave her two. The dance continued.

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Black Hills Seminars

July 26-31, 2017, Rapid City, South Dakota
Join Susan Jones, author of this online journal article, for a breakout session at our 24th annual Black Hills Seminars! Network with leading-edge presenters and like-minded colleagues who are strengthening families and the overall development of children. Beneficial for all who work in prevention, treatment, and education with challenging children and youth. http://cflearning.org/black-hills-seminars

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