We have referred to our school many times as the "Island of Misfit Toys" and several variations thereof. It's not that we're surprised that our students are ... different. We were, after all, created to meet the needs of students who are/were at risk of dropping out, and goodness knows there are a gazillion reasons out there for dropping out. It's the extremeness of some of their misfitness that continues to surprise us.
One of our students this year is a young ... lady ... who is extremely smart, almost to her detriment. She's passive aggressive, doesn't see the point of following rules that she thinks are stupid, and will sacrifice her grade rather than try to get along with a teacher with whom she doesn't get along. She spent a day out of school yesterday, suspended because she refused to A) go to her math class; and B) take off her hood. (And no, she isn't making a statement about her support for Travon Martin.)
Because our students can progress at their own pace, because this student has never failed a course before, and because she IS so smart, she has already earned enough credits to graduate this year, even though she is in the class of 2013. We've had that happen before, and our school system administrators have a policy that those students must appeal for early graduation by writing a letter to the superintendent. It's not that they are AGAINST students getting out of school early, necessarily. Education is a business, after all, and schools receive money per student from the state school folks. (I wish I could come up with a better noun than "folks," but it is what it is.) If we started allowing mass early graduation, it might ultimately cost the school district money. Personally, I think they would be balanced out by the ones who are on the 5- or 6-year plan, but whatever.
I haven't been able to convince this particular student that she needs to go ahead and go to college. It's not that she doesn't see the need for education; she's just not in a hurry. She seems to be quite a paradox, wanting to exit high school early and get on with her life, but not to go ahead and start college.
Our principal informed our early graduates that they would have to write a letter to the superintendent stating their cases. (I can't imagine any situation in which the student would be DENIED the opportunity to graduate early; I think it's a matter of making them jump through the hoops.) The student I'm writing about has procrastinated and procrastinated writing the letter, and I was on the verge of weighing in AGAINST approving her for early graduation just based on her penchant for being perverse.
She finally came to me today and asked me to read over her letter to the superintendent. I fully expected her letter to be full of falsehoods about her desire to get out of high school and start college. It would be just like her to say what she thought the superintendent wanted to hear. After reading her letter, I looked up at her and said, "No one in his or her right mind would dare deny your appeal."
She explained in her letter that while she understood early admission to college SHOULD be her goal, her ambitions were quite different. She described herself as transgender (a term she had already used in earlier conversations with me, so that part wasn't surprising) and said she needed to save money for the surgeries and treatments that she will have to have. She mentioned her job as a grocery bagger, how much she makes per hour, and how much money she has already managed to save (impressive). She explained how much each operation would potentially cost and how much she would have to pay for hormone treatment. In short, this isn't a passing phase. The girl (?) has done her research.
Her best friend (a guy at our school) refers to her with masculine pronouns, but I just can't retrain myself at this point. She told me she prefers masculine pronouns, but she isn't offended by feminine ones. From the beginning of the school year she requested use of a staff member's private bathroom because using the student ones made her feel "awkward." Yet she didn't feel awkward about asking for special treatment. She's a tiny little thing (she was extremely premature and says she was a "crack baby," not joking), and she's easily mistaken for a boy. I have rushed to (tactfully) correct anyone who referred to her as "he" upon first meeting her. My bad. She already has a name (both first and middle - did her parents know?) that can be either feminine or masculine, so she won't have to deal with a name change.
I'm not offering this story for the purposes of judgment or debate. I can't help but admire her spunk.