Susie Moments

Kristin Walko Profile
Article by Kristin Walko
Dean of Students

I’d like to introduce you to a former student of mine named Susie. Both of Susie’s parents abandoned her at birth and their whereabouts are still unknown to this day. Susie was raised by her grandmother, whose family was deeply involved in criminal activity so Susie grew up surrounded by meth manufacturers, drug dealers, alcoholics, community misfits, and sexual predators. Susie was expelled from public school and ran the streets, doing many illegal and immoral activities.

"I will never forget that moment and I don’t think Susie will either."

When Susie came to Gateway Woods, she struggled big time in school. On the surface, she seemed unmotivated and lazy. She was a frustration to us teachers because no matter what lessons we planned in class, Susie would zone out and appear to be in a different world. The school kept logging these observations and asking her counselor and houseparents, “What can we do to motivate Susie?” Susie’s counselor decided to broach this subject in a counseling session. Susie opened up to her counselor and uncovered that the school staff was not wrong in thinking she was in another world when in class, because she was. Susie’s “zoning out” was her actually frequently experiencing flashbacks of the day her house burned down and the times she experienced horrific sexual assault. With sudden realization, I didn’t see Susie as a lazy, unmotivated student anymore. I hurt for Susie. Why should she care about the War of 1812 or how to solve for a variable in algebra? She went through things that are unimaginable. I was flooded with empathy for her, which created a great desire to see this girl succeed.

She was failing my Biology class so she needed to complete additional studying at the house to have any hope of passing. My suggestion was to have her create flashcards for the vocab terms that would be on the upcoming test. The houseparents took this suggestion and gave her index cards with markers so she could make them look “pretty”, as this was something she enjoyed to do. Well, Susie studied those “pretty” flashcards she made. Prior to taking the test, Susie told me that she thought she would do well on it. I admit I was a little doubtful of this because her track record on previous tests was quite dismal. She took the test. I graded the test. I called Susie over to me and told her that I graded her test. I took a big breath and I said, “You got a 96% A!!!” Susie’s eyes lit up and the biggest smile spread across her face.

I will never forget that moment and I don’t think Susie will either. For in that moment, Susie had her first taste of success and she liked it. On a Biology quiz the next week, Susie used her flashcard study method to not only get an A but an A+ this time! And I knew that these moments with Susie were worth it. Susie has inspired me. “Susie moments” are why I work at Gateway Woods School.

Kristin is currently the Dean of Students at the Gateway Woods School.