A Little Humanity Goes A Long Way: School Admins, Police Officer Ditch Policy-Limited Thinking To Make A Difference In Teens' Lives

from the ...-in-a-sea-of-cyborgs dept

As we're all perhaps painfully aware, school administrators and bad cops are frequent targets here at Techdirt. Those covered here are usually the worst of the worst, not necessarily representative of the whole. But there are plenty of lesser evils that go ignored every day, the end result of too much power and bad incentives. Adding cops to schools has exponentially increased the number of terrible decisions being made.

But sometimes, those in these positions of power use it in a positive way. They're perfectly capable of bending rules or showing compassion, but it honestly seems as though those efforts are few and far between. They're also less likely to receive widespread coverage. So, here's one from each category, showing what happens when cops/administrators decide to be human beings, rather than just the public-facing interface of an emotionless system.

The first story (sent in by an unnamed Techdirt reader) details what one school did to make sure a student's mother could see her daughter graduate before she succumbed to a terminal disease.

Battling cancer for four years, Maryland mom Darlene Sugg set a goal — she wanted to see her daughter Megan graduate from high school.

Last week, as her condition took a dire turn, Sugg got her wish with the help of school administrators who threw together a bedside cap-and-gown ceremony for the teen a month before the official commencement date.

There wasn't a dry eye in the room Thursday as Glen Burnie High School Principal Vickie Plitt read a speech she had written just for Megan. Darlene Sugg managed to open her own eyes during the touching address.
The school administrators not only allowed Megan Sugg to hold her own personal graduation program early and off-campus, but it sent its own personnel to ensure it happened with all the dignity of the on-campus ceremony. Instead of deferring to policy and/or expressing a reluctance to make exceptions (out of the irrational fear that granting one means granting exceptions for everyone), the school honored this mother's request.

The importance of showing compassion can't be overstated. Schools tend to be places that prioritize standardized testing and the ability to line up in an orderly fashion over helping individuals explore their own strengths and weaknesses. A cohesive whole is almost always preferable to a school full of unique humans. That a school would go out of its way to allow a daughter to share perhaps the proudest moment of her life with the woman who raised her speaks volumes to the rest of the student body. Hopefully, this will also reach the eyes and ears of other administrators who may find themselves in situations requiring a more human touch (and preferably not by limiting exceptions to those involving imminent death) and push them towards closing the policy manual and addressing the person as a person, instead of as a problem.

The other story details the efforts one police officer made after being contacted by a teen who simply didn't want to go home.
A few weeks ago, 13-year-old Cameron Simmons called Sumter police because he was upset after fighting with his mom. The teenager told police he didn't want to live in the house with his family anymore.

Officer Gaetano Acerra responded to the call.

"I said, "You have it good, you have a roof over your head,'" said Acerra.
Officer Acerra's first response may have sounded a bit glib. And perhaps it was. But when Acerra escorted the teen back to the house he wanted to escape, he saw something that changed his outlook.
The officer brought Simmons home, and realized the boy didn't have a real bed. In fact, Simmons didn't have nearly anything he needed for a bedroom.
On top of the tense relationship with his mom, Simmons had nearly nothing to call his own. Acerra took it upon himself to change that.
A few weeks after the call, Acerra showed up at Simmon's house with a truck full of gifts.

"Bed, TV, desk, chair, a Wii game system that somebody donated to me because of the story I told them," said Acerra.
Acerra made Simmons' home a better place to be. Even if Acerra can't fix everything wrong in this teen's life, he at least gave him something to sleep on and a few things to make spending time there a little more pleasurable. He also gave Simmons his personal phone number and told him to call him anytime.

Acerra said he didn't do it for personal acclaim but simply because "it was the right thing to do." Once again, humanity shines through. Acerra could have simply returned the child to his home and walked away. If Social Services hasn't delivered the case to the PD, there's no reason to care what Simmons' quality of life is. Runaways tend to be picked up on truancy or curfew charges, rather than asked why they would choose to leave a situation that at least puts "a roof over their heads."

A few extra minutes with a troubled youth exposed one of the reasons Simmons wanted out. There was not much "home" at home. Now there is. And if things unrelated to his new bedroom setup get worse, Simmons has someone he can call -- a one-man rescue unit named Officer Gaetano Acerra.

It's understandably hard for police officers to view citizens as anything more than another potential problem. That's the nature of the job. Arrestees are hardly distinguishable from the rest of public -- the only difference is the handcuffs. Not every criminal looks like one. But Acerra's willingness to do just a little more than what was required (return child to home) changed that child's life, and possibly Acerra's as well.

Filed Under: helping, police, school administrators


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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 16 May 2014 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re: This happens more than you know

    Yup. My sister is a teacher and does much the same -- although mostly what she buys is food for the kids who show up so hungry that they can't concentrate on classwork.

    The real crime in this? These aren't poor kids. These kids are mostly from upper-middle/lower-upper class homes. Many parents, however, fail to provide breakfast (or even breakfast money) to their own children.

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