Amy, Skyline, Bomb Threats, Bus Issues, Fighting, Bullying, Inclusion, Zero Tolerance: How Do We Fix The Mess?

In the wake of what happened at Howard High School of Technology a week ago, many are questioning how to fix what is happening in our schools.  There are no easy answers.  I have not heard anyone defending the perpetrators of Amy’s murder.  But I have seen people describe students who exhibit behavior issues referred to as “animals” and “they should be sent to labor camps”.  While this is an extreme, I’ve heard these types of comments more than once, and I hear it more and more.  Once we go down that path we are essentially labeling these students as helpless and stating there is nothing we can do to help them.  And let’s face facts: when people say this there is a very racist undertone and they are referring to African-Americans.  I don’t agree with it on any level and every time I see it I want to ship the people who would say things like that out of our state.

Just this school year we have seen the following: a charter school that closed mid-year due to an uncontrollable environment, a change in feeder patterns resulting in many instances of bullying at a Red Clay middle school, a bizarre number of bomb threats resulting in many schools closing for the day, a child intimidated by a bus driver in Appoquinimink, a father suing Brandywine over what he alleges are due process violations and unsubstantiated searches, students sent to hospitals as a result of fighting that are never publicly acknowledged but whispered about on social media, inclusion practices that are not working, and a student who died from a brutal assault last week at Howard.

As our state grapples with these issues, we have not seen solutions put forth that look at the big picture.  Why are our students acting out?  Why are many of our schools attempting to hide many of these issues?  I have attended many State Board of Education meetings this year and I listen to their audio recordings.  We don’t hear them discussing these kinds of issues too much, if at all.  They seem to be more concerned with student outcomes based on standardized tests, Pathways programs, charter schools, accountability for schools, and celebrating the good things in our schools while giving short shrift to the issues that truly impact school climate.

It starts there.  To get to the heart of issues like this, you have to start at the top and have it trickle down to the Superintendents or Heads of School, to the building administrators, to the teachers, to the students and to the community.  If we have that massive disconnect at the top, the issues can never truly be addressed.  If our State Board and legislators can’t get these matters fixed, how can we expect our schools to do so?

To adequately blame one thing that started a lot of this, we can blame zero tolerance.  After the Columbine shootings in 1999, a massive wave of zero tolerance spread throughout America.  No school wanted to have a situation like that on their hands.  Students would be suspended for frivolous things.  It got to a point in Delaware where an African-American first grader was expelled in the Christina School District for having a cake knife.  As a result of that one bad judgment call, a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resulted in the district entering an agreement with the OCR.  Because the OCR ruled too many minority student suspensions were happening, the district had to be very careful about how they were meting punishment to students.  Other districts saw what happened to Christina and didn’t want to suffer the same fate.

As a result, there was no consistency throughout the state on best practices.  For all the accountability and “standardization” of students based on very flawed state assessments, there has never been any definitive set of standards for school discipline and school climate.  There is no consistency with how schools report instances of bullying, offensive touching, and fighting.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn pointed this out many times but there has been no direct accountability to schools over these issues.  Part of the problem with discipline issues is the unique nature of them.  Because of student privacy and FERPA regulations, many situations can’t be discussed publicly.  There is no accurate tracking method to make sure our schools are recording these instances on the state reporting system, E-school, as required by state law within a set time period.  The result is very bad data in the one area we actually need it the most.  Add in special education issues and behaviors exhibited by students with disabilities.  Is it a result of their disability or is it everyday behavior?  Sometimes we just don’t know.

Some schools are very faithful with recording issues, but far too many aren’t.  How do we know which schools need help with issues if they aren’t being 100% honest about what is going on in their halls?  What shape would that help even be?  If it is a punitive measure from the state, is that going to solve the problem or persuade schools to hide things better?  Non-profits and corporations are lining up to get into our schools to offer what amounts to for-profit assistance.  Under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a call for companies to come into our schools like never before to offer after-school programs and to turn our schools into all-day community centers.  As well, we are seeing some states allowing companies to essentially bet on student outcomes in return for financial profit through social impact bonds.  Many of these ideas are concerning to parents.  Should schools be a place where medical and therapeutic treatment for students occur?  For neglected and abused children, this could be a life-saving measure for those children.  But it also opens up more of our public education system to less control at the local level.  Many feel government should not even be allowed to write something like this into any law.  The Elementary/Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was designed to make sure minority students were given equal footing in schools and were not disadvantaged.  Written in 1965, its goal was actually simple: equal rights for all.  Fifty years later, we are still tackling many of the original issues.  But now we want to turn our schools into more than what they should be.

As far as this insane filming of fights in our schools, it is a new environment with no oversight.  Students want to become social media famous because people come to their profile to look at it.  Something needs to happen immediately.  It is fostering an environment that is not healthy and desensitizes kids to violence.  Even community Facebook pages that have nothing but street fights on them exist unchecked and unmonitored.  In some of these videos, you actually see people telling others how to evade the police and they give warnings when the police are in the area.  For some reason, students are fascinated by this.  But the effect is chilling.  As well, the role of technology in our schools and homes is greater than ever.  But why are we allowing students to carry iPhones around school?  How much of the violence from gaming is warping young minds?  For that matter, what is all this screen time doing to all our brains?

If Amy’s tragic death has shown us anything it is that something is very broken.  We have to fix it, no matter what.  Amy’s situation is by far the worst thing that could happen to a student in school.  But many students bare physical and emotional scars from this broken system.  They are the survivors of fights and bullying that cause trauma to the soul, if not the physical.  On the flip side, we have students like Patrick Wahl’s son Joseph who many view as a victim of very bizarre due process circumstances for a district that still follows zero tolerance tendencies.  There are good things happening in our schools.  Don’t get me wrong on that.  We see students participating in charity events and giving back to their community on many levels.  But that can’t be all the public sees.  We have to look at the bad too.  We can’t put a blanket over the violence in our schools and pretend it isn’t there.  Amy’s death shattered that illusion in our state.

In the shadow of all this is the other illusion the state has cast on parents.  Many parents judge schools based on their performance without realizing the measurement of that performance is fundamentally flawed.  To get a basic breakdown of how this works, many years ago corporations decided they could make money off education.  They tailored reports to give the illusion that “the sky is falling” and all students were in danger of falling behind other countries.  Politicians jumped on the bandwagon through concerted lobbying efforts on the part of these companies, and soon enough new laws came down from a federal level based on student outcomes from standardized tests.  No Child Left Behind opened the door but Race To The Top opened the floodgates for this corporate invasion.  As schools were labeled and shamed under “school turnaround” laws, the US DOE started their ESEA flexibility waiver scheme.  They bribed schools with money to further these agendas.  Our schools and districts took the money with immense pressure from state governments during a recession.  A dramatic shift in school climate happened.  As more and more teachers took part in professional development to train them on the Common Core and other company initiatives, something happened to students.  They were not supervised the way they were prior to all of this and they found new ways to usurp authority, especially in schools with large populations of high-needs students.  Add in the situation with the OCR in Christina, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Diane Ravitch wrote today about the fifteen years of “fake” reform and how the impetus behind it all, NAEP scores, show students who are now seniors more behind than they were compared to their counterparts in 1992.  Common Core doesn’t work.

What if what we are seeing with student behavior and the reasons behind it are all wrong?  What if those who come from poverty, special needs, and low-income minority populations isn’t just misbehavior but something else altogether?  What if it is a direct result of a system designed for conformity?  The supposed goal of the Common Core was to make all students get the same set of standards across the country.  I hear many consistent things from parents in Delaware.  For smarter kids, Common Core isn’t so tough once they get it.  But for struggling students, basically the ones from sub-groups that perform poorly on state assessments, it is much more difficult.  Perhaps what we are seeing with this absolute disregard of authority in schools is a natural defense mechanism kicking in.  A fight or flight mechanism when their way of living, of being, is attacked.  The natural instinct for teenagers is to rebel.  Compound that with an entire education system designed to make students question authority less and use “critical thinking” based on standards that actually give children less choices, and something will give.  We are seeing this now.  And if we continue on the same track, it will get far worse.  If a “smart” student gets it faster, it would naturally put other students behind.  This is the impossible bar the Common Core puts on students.  For the intelligent who come from wealthier and more cohesive home environments, this isn’t a problem.  But for students with disabilities who cannot always control their actions and minority students who do not have the environmental stability their more advantaged peers have, it will take a great deal of effort to catch up with their peers.  Add in the stress and anxiety they have from their environment outside of school to the pressure to perform in school, and the pressure gage gets higher.  Then add the explosive need every teenager has, to belong and have friends, and the gage gets closer to the point of no return.  Throw in a fixation on violence mixed with wanting to be accepted and the Pompeii of public education is set.  Last week we saw the volcanic eruption of rage unchecked and bystanders filming it and doing nothing.

The biggest victims of the education reform movement are inner-city African-American students.  While civil rights groups demanded more equity for these students they fell into the trap the corporate education reformers methodically laid out for them with financial enticements.  The reformers echoed their complaints and pitted parents against teachers.  The reformers used standardized test scores to give a false impression of schools and invented a whole new language based on the word “gap”: the equity gap, the proficiency gap, the honesty gap, and on and on and on.  Add in school choice, a growing charter school movement, forced busing based on a horrible Neighborhood Schools Act in Delaware, and the rise of Jack Markell as Governor wrapped in a corporate bow and the perfect storm began in our schools.

To ignore the plight of African-Americans in Delaware would be a gross injustice.  It goes way beyond apologizing for slavery.  A friend of mine sent me an article about the 1968 Occupation of Wilmington.  The article written by Will Bunch with philly.com talked about the nine-month Occupation of Wilmington by the National Guard following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  For the African-American community in Wilmington at the time, this was a grave injustice:

On the other hand, in a sign of some of the deep divide and mistrust in Delaware that lingers to this day, the white Democratic governor down in Dover decided to send in the National Guard – and then kept troops on the streets of Wilmington for nine long months, the longest military occupation of a U.S. city since the Civil War.

And this quote from former Wilmington Mayor James Baker:

But the memory still burns for those who lived through the occupation. “It sent a shock wave through the social-service agencies . . . and the city as a whole,” Baker recalled. “People said, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Many African-American communities in Wilmington are very distrustful of the government, and for very good reasons.  This belief gets handed down from generation to generation.  But when drugs enter a city like Wilmington, followed by violence and murders, that distrust can get out of control.  How do we tackle this?  How do we lift a whole city out of a problem of this magnitude?  When my friend sent me this article, it was a response to my question about why we don’t just send in tons of cops and clean it all up, all the drugs and gangs.  She informed me the last time this happened it didn’t work out too well.  It astonishes me that we are still dealing with issues of race in the 21st Century, but we are and we need to face it and deal with it, all of us.  But at the same time, we cannot ignore what individuals are doing in individual circumstances.

We need to be very careful on how we plan to deal with the situations in far too many of our schools.  Far too much is tied into the very bad education reforms that show, time and time again, how it just doesn’t work.  But our current system has been infiltrated with far too many people tied to these efforts.  I expected to see a late rush of legislation coming forth at Legislative Hall in the final days of June.  With very little community input and transparency, we need to watch our legislators like a hawk and make sure what they put forth is best for students and not the broken system some of them are trying desperately to make permanent.  The funding mechanisms for our schools are under the microscope, but if we squeeze the property assessment orange too fast, it could cause many to leave the state they moved to because of low taxes.  As well, we need to be mindful of laws Delaware could pass in anticipation of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The law is still being flushed out in a lot of areas and the DOE and Governor Markell WILL take full advantage of that to please the hedge funders and corporations.

If businesses want to come into our schools and turn them into community schools, they should pay rent to our schools.  If they want to turn education into a marketplace, like any other store they need to pay their rent.  Why are we giving them a free ride while they make millions and millions and our districts get less?  It makes no sense when you look at it like a business model.  But no, our state wants to give them tax discounts for doing business in our state.  We are giving them free reign to pump out the same products over and over again with no actual results.

While these aren’t the solutions we need to make our schools safer, it is a big start.  Our district administrators are far too distracted with all of the nonsense around Common Core, state assessments, personalized learning, and career pathways when they should be focused on the more important things.  The first steps to ending violence in our schools are actually quite simple.  A rebellion like none seen before in public education.  A collective and concerted effort to rid ourselves of the catalysts that are stroking the flames in our children’s lives.  End Common Core.  End state assessments.  End the testing accountability machine that destroys morale in students, teachers, and schools.  End the corporate interference in education that perpetuates the false ideals that if students have more “rigor” and “grit” they can become college and career ready.  We are indoctrinating children at a very young age to be something they are not meant to be.  The human mind won’t allow it.  Some will conform.  But for the growing poor and disabled in our country, they will not be what the reformers want them to be.  You can’t guide a four-year old towards a certain career path based on data and scores.  You can’t say they don’t qualify for special education if a disability has not manifested itself yet.  End the abhorrent amount of data collection on our students for “educational research”.

This is the start.  Let’s get back to more human education.  Why are we doing this to our future?  No child should be a victim of a padded resume or a fattened wallet.  The majority of teachers will tell you privately what we are doing is not working.  Administrators will as well if you catch them on a good day.  But they feel threatened that if they don’t comply their profession will disappear.  They will fight for certain things but when they need to openly rebel against the system, it doesn’t happen.  It is their self-defense mechanism.  The closest we have come to ending this era of education reform is opt out.  But even that is in danger of disappearing if the education tech invaders get their way and have the state assessment embedded in small chunks instead of a once a year test.  The personalized learning and competency-based education models are already calling for this.

When I hear people say “all you do is complain, what are your solutions?”, I cringe.  The problem is so epic in scope, so large in diameter, that it will take a great deal of effort by many well-meaning people to find all the answers.  And when I say well-meaning, I don’t mean the Rodel Foundation or the Governor.  I mean the people who are not affected by corporate greed and a lust for power.  I’m talking about the people who truly want to save our children.

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Were Weapons Used In Amy Inita Joyner-Francis’ Death? Please Come Clean On This Wilmington P.D. & Howard High School of Technology

Over on Kilroy’s Delaware a commenter named M Ryder wrote a reply about who should have files charged against them in connection with Amy’s death at Howard High School of Technology.  Many have felt the administration of the school should have better coverage of student hallways in the beginning of the school day.  Since they didn’t, I questioned whether they should be charged with gross negligence.  I have always maintained that the parties directly involved in Amy’s death are ultimately responsible for her death.  M Ryder definitely agreed with that but added some facts that I haven’t seen involving this story:

So kevin, the school should be charged that two students planned to meet in the bathroom to fight over a boy? The school should be charged because the girl who was losing the fight had girlfriends carrying knives? The school should be charged for the girlfriends who then ganged up on the girl who they stabbed and then forced down striking her head on the way down? The school should be charged? Really???

If this really happened, why did the Wilmington Police Department state there were no weapons involved?  I asked M Ryder how he/she came about knowing this information but I have yet to receive a response.  If there were stab wounds, those would be seen right away by the police.  Superintendent Dr. Gehrt empathized Howard was a safe school just hours after the assault.  When are we going to get full details about what happened that day and why am I smelling a cover-up?  I thought it was ridiculous when someone mentioned there was talk about installing metal detectors at the school but if there were knives used in this crime, it is completely understandable.

I have no idea who “M Ryder” is, but they are usually accurate with their information they post on Kilroy’s Delaware.  I can’t verify if the information M Ryder posted is credible, but given everything that went down that day and the actions of those in authority afterwards, I would not be surprised.  As if this tragedy wasn’t already horrifying, this new aspect, if true, takes us further down the path of evil that came out that day.

Public Information Officer For Howard High School Of Technology Clears The Air On Board Meeting & Town Halls

I updated my last post yesterday with information from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District concerning the change of time and venue for their board meeting this month.  During my communication with the district, I asked them if they just wanted me to make the change or post their information verbatim.  I didn’t hear back from them until late last night but I already made the change earlier.  This was their communication to me:

From: Demarest Kathy <kathy.demarest@nccvt.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 3:49 PM
Subject: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi, Kevin-

I am writing this email to you instead of using your blog as a forum.

On behalf of the NCC Vo-Tech school district, it is disappointing that you presumed that we decided to change the school board meeting time and location in order to prevent access to the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you can imagine, or perhaps you cannot, the first two days were spent doing everything that could be done to support Amy’s family, to provide supports for our Howard students and staff, and to communicate with students, parents, and the greater community the details as we knew them,  while this horrible tragedy was evolving.

We scheduled a Saturday morning conference call so we could schedule and plan Howard parent meetings as soon as possible. We knew we already had a regular monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday evening, and were already considering changing it so that Monday could be a parent meeting option.

We were informed late Friday by an elected city official that a Town Hall meeting for Howard parents and community had been scheduled for Monday night at Stubbs Elementary School. As we were unaware of that plan, and in order to accommodate that meeting, our Board of Education determined to move up their meeting Monday from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to hold it at District Office.

We have scheduled to hold the Howard parent meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, both meetings beginning at 7 p.m., and both in the Howard auditorium.  We had to schedule two meetings in order to accommodate as many parents who may wish to attend. Howard has a student body of over 900.
The Tuesday meeting is for parents of 10th and 11th grade students; Wednesday is for parents of students in grades 9 and 12.

It was certainly disheartening to see your post, when all are trying to make the best decisions possible during this unspeakable and evolving personal crisis for the Joyner-Francis family, and a school-wide crisis for the Howard community.  Perhaps you should have asked before you presumed the worst.

Please keep Amy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.  This will be a most difficult week for all. 

Kathy K. Demarest
Public Information Officer
NCC Vo-Tech School District

I responded with the following:

From: Kevin Ohlandt
Reply-To: Kevin Ohlandt
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 6:47 PM
To: Demarest Kathy
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Kathy,

I do appreciate you reaching out to me. I apologize about not reaching out. I used to reach out, many times, and I am usually ignored. So I stopped doing so a while ago. I get information from a lot of people, and while you were disheartened with my article, that was the impression many folks had prior to my writing it. As well, many people, including staff in the district, were extremely upset that Dr. Gehrt referred to Howard as a safe school when an innocent girl was killed there. There was a whole other part to that article you didn’t address. I understand this is a very tough situation, but parents and community members are counting on all of you to change the environment there. The bottom line is Howard is not safe. It hasn’t been, and I know many of our schools aren’t either. Sadly, we learned what happens when things are sugar-coated and we hyper obsess over student outcomes.

I write what I do, not to be heartless, but to draw attention to what is really going on out there. I know that underneath the shiny veneer so many of our schools coat themselves with, that there are children suffering. I also know a lot of that suffering is due to events from outside our schools, but a lot of it does take place in schools. Let me be the first to tell you: I hate writing so much about our schools and DOE in Delaware. I truly do. There is no benefit to myself, and it takes a huge amount of time.

I will happily change the article with the information you provided to me. I can do so verbatim or just paraphrase. I will leave that up to you.

I know this is a horrifying time for the district, but as a parent myself, I would want to attend this board meeting if I were a Howard parent. Town Halls in this situation are absolutely necessary, but board meetings are too. I know many people don’t take advantage of them, but that is where things happen with our districts. I do apologize the way I wrote the article, and like I said, I am more than happy to change it.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I received the following response late last night:

From: Demarest Kathy
To: Kevin Ohlandt
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:27 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your apology and for the offer to post. I’d prefer you post my email in its entirety.

Regards,

Kathy

UPDATED WITH VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION!!! Parents Concerned About Murder At Howard High School Should Go To District Board Meeting Monday Night

Updated, 8:32am: I have just heard from a few sources that the district has changed their meeting to their district office at 4pm.  And the meeting will be held in a conference room that holds a maximum of 15 people.  Apparently there is a Town Hall at Stubbs Elementary School tomorrow night which is being led by Wilmington Councilman Darius Brown, which precipitated the time change for the board meeting.  The district did reach out to advise me this is the reason for the board meeting change.  Several folks were upset about this, and I did suggest to the district they might want to change the board meeting to another night when parents and members of the community are more easily able to attend.  There is another Town Hall this week for parents to talk about the situation.  I will update that information when I know when and where.  One thing I would remind everyone to do is think of Amy and her family and friends.  And please continue praying for all of them.

Howard High School of Technology belongs to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.  The district has a board meeting Monday night, 4/25, at St. George’s Technical High School in their Media Center at 7pm.  Howard was the high school where Amy died last Thursday.  I believe the district has a lot to answer for.  While I don’t believe the district is directly responsible for what happened to Amy, there were circumstances that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.

NCCVTAgenda42516

Why are students allowed to enter the school at 7:15am in the morning to gather and do what they please.  I’m hearing hall monitors are sparse, when they do come, and when they arrive on time.  I’ve heard many who want to blame the teachers for what happened.  Nope.  They are in district mandated professional development during some of these mornings.  To accommodate this, the district changed the start time for the first classes a couple days a week.  Let’s make one thing clear right off the get-go: teachers hate professional development.  I don’t care how many surveys the Delaware Dept. of Education dredges out.  The abuse of Delaware teachers doesn’t begin and end with their evaluations.

Our school districts have become so enamored with the Delaware Way, that horrible situation where all tables must come to the table and compromise while the more powerful of the parties ends up getting their way (in most cases the state DOE/Rodel Foundation for education).

Could Amy’s death have been prevented?  I would like to think it could have.  One thing is crystal clear.  The discipline and fighting figures we see are not honest.  There may be a few out there, but I think a lot is going unreported.  There are things our schools are trying to hide which is making problems worse, not better.  In many of our schools, students hit teachers all the time.  They curse and roam the halls in some schools.  Some students are expelled or sent to alternative schools in the hopes they will become better students.  But the class sizes in these schools now make it impossible for a teacher there to get anything done.  There is also this absurd culture where students have no authoritative role models anymore.  Some of them don’t get it at home or school.  A school should not be the Band-Aid to cure what ails so many of our students.  But this seems to be what our state and the corporate education reform companies want.

Don’t get me wrong: students should not encourage fighting, nor should they build a blockade so teachers or other adults can’t stop what is going on.  The students involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  In my opinion, those who stood and watched while filming the tragedy should be held accountable as well.  They are just as guilty.  But the schools, districts and administrators who stand back and let these things happen time and time again need to realize how serious these things can get.  A student died in one of our schools in Delaware.  She was murdered.  We can’t forget that and it would dishonor Amy’s life to think otherwise.

The parents of students at Howard High School of Technology have every right to voice their concerns.  I strongly encourage all of them to attend the board meeting Monday night in Middletown.  If they are unable to get there, other parents should offer a ride or perhaps the district should arrange busing for them so they can make their voices heard.  This meeting could get very real and the district may be forced to hear things they would rather not hear.  But I’m sure Amy’s parents heard something they never wanted to hear the day she died.

Her Name Is Amy

Something happened yesterday in Delaware that shook them to their core.  She knew she would be forever viewed as the student who died because of something that happened inside her school.  She woke up yesterday, got ready for school, her mind heavy with whatever circumstances eventually led to her death, and faced the day.  She probably didn’t know it was going to be her last.  Her name is Amy.

She got to school and soon after found herself in a girl’s bathroom where she then found herself in a fight with another girl.  Others joined the fight and what may have been even odds soon became unbalanced.  As onlookers excitedly watched and some may have pulled out their iPhones to film the fight, the girl’s head went into a sink.  As instincts for defense flashed out of her mind I imagine she felt a sudden jolt of pain and then nothing.  Her name is Amy.

She may have felt her soul leap out of her body.  She may have seen her mortal shell no longer a vessel for her heart and soul.  She may have seen the confusion, anger, and sadness around her death.  Depending on what she believed, many things could have happened.  She felt a warmth and a light calling to her as she was welcomed into the arms of those she lost in her short time here.  All her worries, confusion, and anxiety lifted from her in an instant.  Surrounded by unconditional love with a true understanding of what existence is truly about.  Her name is Amy.

As she met our Heavenly Father and His Son, she understood why everything happened the way it did and she was at peace with it.  She may have shared some of that light and kindness with her family on Earth, and her friends, and even her enemies.  She may have seen the endless tears stretch across a nation yesterday as people who never knew her tried to grapple with what happened.  Perhaps she knew her death may have meaning in the long run and serve as an example of much-needed change on our world.  Her name is Amy.

She may have seen the pervasive darkness that surrounded the city she called home.  The true evil, mixed with moments of grace, as the city endlessly struggles to heal itself.  She may have seen the light inside each and every one of its inhabitants, struggling to bring out that light and let it shine.  She may have seen those who do not have a home to call their own except the hard streets.  She may have seen the endless debate, trying to find fault in her death.  But she knew her death meant she would have eternal life.  She understood that her freedom was our loss and for some, nothing would ever be the same again.  She knew some would attempt to change things because of her death and she smiled.  Her name is Amy.

It was the last day of her mortal life and the first day of her eternal life.  The things that mattered to her here were still with her but in her new life she felt a connection with it all.  She saw how one pebble could have a ripple effect on those around her which spread out around the world.  A butterfly effect.  She understood that human beings could make a choice, to give her death true meaning they would need to look outside themselves to understand the multiple reasons for answering the whys.  She understood the factors that led to her eternal life and no one thing could give a clarifying and simple answer.  From the time she was in her mother’s womb until her last breath, everything mattered.  How one smile to a stranger could have lifted their burdens of the day.  How one word of anger could have darkened the light inside someone.  How one tear of sadness could have hardened a soul to indifference.  While these things made her who she was, she understood that it meant everything to those who cried for her but none could understand the entire puzzle.  Her name is Amy.

She understood that it wasn’t just about education, or boys, or crime, or authority, or lawlessness, or anger.  It was about life, in all its shapes and forms and colors.  Every action, every thought, every moment… it mattered.  She saw the pictures forming in the minds of the lost and she knew one day they would understand.  She knew God gave each of us a piece of Himself and we could never see the full picture until we returned to Him.  She saw the technology with her name everywhere and she laughed, a jovial soul-cleansing laugh that spread throughout the afterlife.  Heaven got brighter yesterday as it does when every new soul joins it.  An unending light that gives each of us a piece of that light.  She understood this in her first day.  Her name is Amy.

Tonight we’ll build a bridge across the sea and land
See the sky, the burning rain
She will die and live again tonight.

-U2-“A Sort of Homecoming”