When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

A Graduation

RobinWhen the need arose for Robin to get back into the workforce several years ago, she applied for a job in the Vancouver School District. Prior to that, she had worked as a volunteer in the schools her children attended, so it was not a completely unfamiliar environment. Still, it took her ten minutes to build up the courage to drop the big envelope into the mail slot. She knew going back to work would be a life-changing event.

For a few years she worked one-on-one with a boy with disabilities, helping him navigate physically and emotionally through elementary and middle school. Then she found herself working as one of two para-educators in a middle-school structured-learning classroom. Her job was to help the teacher manage the dozen or so students who had a variety of behavioral problems. In spite of being called every possible name, accused of doing every imaginable thing with farm animals, and even being physically threatened at times, she loved her job and cared very much for the kids she worked with. She never referred to them as bad kids. To her, they were ordinary but disadvantaged kids whose bleak living conditions made it impossible for them to come to school to learn much of anything.

As much as she liked the job, Robin realized there was not much potential for advancement. Her job was fairly secure, despite all the cutbacks elsewhere, because not very many people could do what she did for more than an hour or so, let alone five days a week. And the pay? Well, it’s a little better than minimum wage, at least. So she began thinking about going back to school.

She knew she wanted to work with kids, especially kids with disadvantages, but she didn’t want to be a teacher. Art therapy sounded good. Washington State University has a campus in Vancouver, perhaps there was something there that would interest her. But she didn’t do much else but talk about possibilities. 

One day a friend who works at Clark College, a community college here in Vancouver, brought her a flyer. Eastern Washington University was starting another three-year social-work cohort at Clark. “You should apply, Robin,” the friend said. Never mind that the deadline was only about a week away—not enough time for much vacillation. It was a push to get her transcripts from Fresno State, where she had graduated with honors in 1976 with a degree in consumer science (previously known as home economics).

She was accepted into the program and thus began a new way of life for both of us. Her schedule was grueling. Classes were from 12:30 to 9:00 on Fridays. She was able to get Friday afternoons off from her job at the middle school, which made this whole thing possible. Off hours—outside of both classrooms—were consumed with reading, researching, and writing dozens of papers in the very meticulous APA style. Things like vacations were eliminated from our lives.

This past 15 months had an added bonus of stressors: practicum internship. Robin got an excellent placement, one that gave her lots of good experience in a setting that allowed her to showcase her skills: working at the Clark County Juvenile Justice Center. She started out as a mentor at community service activities on weekends. Then she got certified in Aggression Replacement Training (ART), classes designed to help juvenile offenders from going deeper into the system. Aside from her day job at the middle school and her classes on Fridays, she was now assisting in classes at the justice center on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. She went directly from one job to another. And still there was research to do and papers to write.

But today that came to an end—at least for a while. Today Robin graduated—again with honors—from Eastern Washington University School of Social Work. Well, not exactly with honors. Even though her GPA is around 3.95, she doesn’t have enough credits specifically from EWU to warrant them giving her proper acknowledgment. She didn’t get to wear the applicable summa cum laude cords nor have *** after her name in the program. But one of her professors said to me after the ceremony, “We didn’t do questions and answers, we had conversations. She’s brilliant.” Yes, high honors for extraordinary effort.

So this was Robin’s day, celebrated with a party at our house with a few of the great friends she made through this extraordinary experience.

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