My Roeper Story is about Roeper parenting.
When I talk about my education, I always say: “Roeper raised me.”
Now, 10 years after my graduation, I realize just how much parenting my teachers and administrators actually did. From my first day of kindergarten through my senior speech, Roeper gave me a family.
In high school, I wondered why no teacher woke me up when I slept through their class in the hallway, on the floor in front of the radiators. I know now – it’s because they knew I wasn’t sleeping at home. As my younger siblings have grown up (without a Roeper education), I’ve learned teenagers don’t always verbalize or know what kind of help they need.
Roeper gave me the tools of respect, negotiation, and communication that were not fostered at home. Roeper taught me gratitude, compassion, and self-reliance. At Roeper, I was nourished with so much love, my pain never completely overcame me. Roeper was a safe place. It was my school, but it was also my home.
Cathy Wilmers brushed my hair during recess in 3rd grade, giving me confidence in my curls, and myself. She knew I needed a loving touch. In Stage 4, Diana Elshoff showed me what tough love, routines, and consequences look like. Linda Pence took me into her arms the morning my father left for good. Emery scooped me up from my house in the middle of the day to get me to school. Gregg Goldberg once picked me up from a hospital. George Tysh gave me a place to stay from time to time, and taught me what poetry was, and how to talk about feelings.
In 9th grade, I walked into Laura Panek’s biology class reeking of cigarettes and wearing an inappropriately short shirt. Laura gave me a look I’ll never forget. It was disapproving, but it was the kindness in her eyes that embarrassed me. I no longer felt cool – I suddenly wanted to cover up and be on time.
Brigitte Milner never shied away from clucking about me. Linda Vernon had a tougher way of loving –asking me if my mother let me out of the house with that much blush on. Butch Ashman often stopped me in the hallway, leaning against the radiator with his brown backpack and thermos of coffee. It was never to berate me about my late paper, or sleeping through his class – it was to check in on me.
These teachers knew they were parenting, but they also understood transference and child psychology. I wasn’t the first kid to need a family structure at school, and I know I’m not the last. Still, it’s unusual for a school to willingly take on the responsibility of loving and guiding a child towards adulthood, while making sure I never felt like a burden. A pain in the ass, yes. A burden, no. It was the unique atmosphere and student/teacher relationship at Roeper that made them unafraid to love me, and me, unafraid to love back.
By the time I left Roeper, I was raring to go – but 10 years on, I find myself missing the community more and more. Last year, I walked past Jennifer O’Green leaving a grocery store – even with sunglasses and straight auburn hair, I knew it was her. “Jenny?!” I exclaimed. She was stunned I recognized her, but how could I forget my first teacher? That day I was wearing a shirt that said, “Always have, always will.” And that’s how I feel about having and giving Roeper love. I always have, and always will.
Emily Lardner, Class of 2006