Exposure to gang violence, domestic abuse, drug use, overwhelmed parents and other painful experiences are not just in movies for many students at Houston ISD’s Worthing High School.
Feeling little or no control over their lives can be traumatic and prevent students from being able to focus on school studies. Students need someone dedicated to caring for them, to empower them with tools to cope with distressing situations and be successful in and out of school. That’s where Artruh Leeah Fleming, Communities In Schools of Houston’s student support specialist, comes in.
“I know where I came from. I came from a background where I didn’t have a lot of financial support. My mother wasn’t there for me all the time. But I beat the odds,” Fleming said. “I feel like these kids are part of me. If I beat the odds, I can give them all the tools they need to do the same. I want them to learn how to fish, instead of me giving them the fish. If I could do it, and these kids look like me and have my struggles, they can do it, too.”
No matter what the hardship, Fleming does whatever it takes to meet the needs of the whole child – from linking students to CIS partners who can provide additional social and emotional supports to spending time with and listening to them every single day.
Fleming devotes a lot of energy to motivating students, like one girl who was getting into fights every day at school. Her mother had a history of drug use, and her brothers were in and out of jail; she felt alone. The student needed to share her struggles and vent her frustrations, and Fleming was there. She met with the girl every morning to mentally and emotionally prepare her for the day. Those daily pep talks motivated the girl to process her pain and push through. Fleming built up the girl’s self-esteem, and they worked on social skills, emotional self-care and college preparedness. Now, that student has graduated from Worthing and will soon work in the nursing field.
Not every student that passes through Fleming’s door has an immediate turnaround story, though. She knows she can’t solve every problem, and sometimes, students’ success comes later – once the crisis has passed. But Fleming remains committed to helping every student prepare for their success, in part because she personally knows every one of them is capable of thriving.