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FIRST-PERSON: ‘I want to change, and you came to mind’

AUGUSTA, Ga. (BP)–The girl smiles every morning as I stand at my classroom with an attendance sheet to check off the names.

“Good morning,” she says.

“How are you?” I respond.

“Fine.”

[1]

It’s a ritual without thought. Most eighth-grade students say nothing. That’s why it was a shock to read the girl’s death wish.

She came to my class late in the year. Her name is Belinda and she lives in a foster home.

“I hate my life,” she wrote on her notebook. “I want to kill myself.”

I’d see those comments since Belinda sits next to me at the front of the class.

“She’s just having a bad day,” the school counselor said.

But her talk is about death. That must involve a plan.

“Her sister lives with another family,” the counselor added. “They adopted the sibling. Belinda … is upset since they can’t be together.”

[2]

I’ve worked in middle school classrooms for the last 16 years. Two former students died last year. One cut a high school class and wrecked. The other dropped out to live with a boyfriend; he was on drugs one night and killed her with a hunting rifle.

None of my students committed suicide. But the danger is there.

According to National School Safety and Security Services, nearly two dozen people have lost their lives in school-related violence since August. Shootings claimed 12. But another six were self-inflicted.

One high school student in Los Angeles set up a video camera in the school parking lot. Then he shot himself in front of classmates and died. Police blamed the problem on a relationship gone bad.

Seven days later a 14-year-old put a pistol next to his head in Shiloh, Md. Classmates found him in the school restroom with a bullet in his head.

School once was a center for learning. Now it’s a stage for final exit. And each suicide leaves plenty of questions.

There’s very little a teacher can do if a student commits to self-destruct. I heard the warnings with Belinda.

“Get them to help,” experts warn. “Call a counselor.”

I did. But the comments continue from the student.

“She needs hospitalization,” others might say.

They’re probably right. But I’m seeing more students like her. It shows up in the graffiti left on desktops.

“Jane and Jim 4-ever” used to be the message. Now you see tombstones with “I hate my life.”

I pray for those students. Their hope seems gone. One boy named Chuck heard voices in his head. “Do it,” they would tell him. “Start that fight. Shout in class.”

Chuck had several therapists and different medications. It didn’t help. The boy would shout or squeal in class.

“It’s almost demonic,” I thought.

I was driving to school one morning and started to pray for Chuck. It wasn’t a “bless our day” type of prayer but:

“God, please remove the demon.”

Several days later there was a knock at my classroom door before school started. It was Chuck.

“I was just about to get in a fight,” he said. “I want to change and you came to mind.”

“Then let me tell you the truth,” I said. “Only God can help in problems like this.”

We went through the gospel. Chuck became a Christian.

The ACLU would challenge any biblical topics in a public school. But our students are people. They have needs. Why skirt the problem with education talk that doesn’t help?

Chuck is in a church now and looks like a different student. He makes an effort on his assignments. There’s a calmness in his talk.

Belinda continues with her sadness. Every morning she passes by with the same comment.

“Good morning,” she’ll say.

“And how are you?” I respond.

She needs Jesus.
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Renick is a member of Curtis Baptist Church, Augusta, Ga.