Kevin is a Grade 11 student in an ethno-culturally diverse school in a large urban centre. Lately, Kevin’s teacher has noticed that he is frequently absent from class, his school work is below par and his grades are falling. He often seems sullen and indifferent in class and he has responded rudely to the teacher several times recently when she has asked him questions.

Kevin’s mother arrived in Canada as a refugee from a war-torn African country before Kevin was born. While pregnant with Kevin, she was forced to leave her husband in order to save her life and the lives of her two small children – a girl and a boy. Kevin’s mother saw and heard many horrors before leaving. She has been traumatized by the war crimes and cruelty she witnessed. She has never talked to anyone about what she saw. She suffers from depression, doesn’t socialize and doesn’t really trust other people. Although she was a teacher in her country of origin, in Canada she works at a minimum wage job, as do Kevin’s older siblings who quit school after Grade 11.

Kevin and his family live in a small apartment. He shares a bedroom with his brother and his sister shares a bedroom with their mother. There is nowhere to study in their cramped bedroom and the only other space is the living room which is always occupied with the television on. The family has no computer and Kevin has to go to the public library to get access to one.

Sometimes, life seems like such an empty, meaningless struggle to Kevin. He is having more and more trouble concentrating on his school work, and he knows that he is falling farther and farther behind. No one has said anything to him about it, and it almost seems as if no one has even noticed. He feels out of place and stupid in class. School work just doesn’t seem to connect to his life in any way. He looks around him and all the other kids seem to be into it, or at least coping. He sometimes feels like he is on another planet – like no one else would understand what his life is like. More and more it seems like there is no point in going to school at all.

Recently, Kevin has made some new friends. They are very, very cool and exciting. All of them have parents who were born in other countries too so for the first time in his life Kevin feels like there is a place where people “get” him. Kevin and his friends go out a lot on the weekend. Sometimes they go to parties. There isn’t anywhere for them to go to spend time together so when there are no parties, they sometimes hang out in parks or just walk around. They are often hassled by the police who assume they have drugs. In fact, Kevin recently met someone at a party who whispered something to him about “business opportunities”. He is very tempted to make some easy money selling drugs.

One day, Kevin’s teacher approached him to talk about the change he has noticed in Kevin’s attitude. The teacher, himself a black man, originally from an African country, is concerned that Kevin has much potential but is falling through the cracks. He essentially communicated this to Kevin, trying to phrase his concerns in a positive light, focusing on his belief that Kevin could do better, and letting him know that he understood how difficult life can get. Kevin remained silent, his eyes lowered, and gave his teacher very little response. His teacher had met Kevin’s mother and was aware of some of the challenges facing him due to his family circumstances. He didn’t push too hard, only intending at this point to let Kevin know that someone had noticed him, cared about him, and believed in him. He said he would follow up in a little while, just in case Kevin wanted to talk or something.

Although he did not overtly express it in any way, Kevin was stunned and also touched by his teacher’s approach. No one had ever expressed a belief in his potential or abilities, and he himself had never imagined any kind of future for himself, as this was just not part of his world or his experience. He liked the way his teacher had talked to him; there was no blame or judgment in his tone or language, simply an expression of concern and optimism about his ability to do better. Kevin told no one, but he remembered his teacher’s words and he began to perceive his teacher as someone he could maybe talk to if he needed to at some point.