By Sylvia Dickson
I have vivid memories of May Day in grammar school. Well, possibly it was one May Day. Schools probably don’t host May Day activities anymore, but for my classmates and me, it was highly anticipated. For one thing, we got out of the classroom and into the sunshine.
Another name would be Field Day, but to me, that just doesn’t sound very inviting even though we ran races, kicked balls, played Red Rover, softball, and had snacks. I remember in first grade running with determination and speed to win the 10-yard dash. How marvelous I felt when they handed me a blue ribbon. It’s funny that I couldn’t make the track team in high school.
On that May Day in first grade, something else happened that wasn’t exhilarating. My mom and dad picked me up from school to take me to live at a “home” for children with respiratory problems. Even though I had just won the 10-yard dash, I was not a picture of health.
So, as a 7-year-old, I left home to live in a dormitory with about 20 other girls. Boys lived in another dormitory and we were all under 12 years old. All of us went to school together in a 2-room schoolhouse. As a miniscule first grader, the playground seemed huge. If I went back today, it would probably look half the size.
I was only there for 4 months, but being away from my family, thrown into a group where I had no privacy and no escape from them was hard. We wore uniforms of white shorts, shirts, and sandals in the summer. If the weather was chilly we added a light sweater. (I don’t know what was worn in the winter because I wasn’t there).
This was not a normal situation. Of course, the ideal is for children to be in a family with a trustworthy mother and father. The children at this home had no relationships with the adults. Everything was scheduled down to when and where we took baths, no variation in clothing, and lines for going to meals, school and play. Staff strictly supervised during their shift and left.
As I watch our students at FCA come and go, I see normalcy. Again, the ideal is an intact mother and father family. However, French Camp is a community that gives a lot of freedom to try new things within a safe framework. We have relationships.
Adults interact with students in normal ways. Students have relationships with house parents, teachers, and other staff members: healthy, wholesome, god-honoring relationships.
Some of our young people have never experienced ideal living—living as God planned. Just being a kid—riding a bike, throwing a ball, catching crawdads in the creek. They lost their youth to the bullies of a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse. Others became victims of neighborhood decline, or death of a caregiver. Still others made bad choices—skipping school, disrespect.
The biggest issue is trust. Young people come to us not knowing who to trust because they have never been able to trust. As I talk with our students, I have learned one of the most important parts of FCA are the relationships they form with adults.
Comments from students show that they can be real; talk about things that matter and be heard; know forgiveness is on the table ready to be accepted; feel safe; be given second and third chances; know that the staff truly cares about them; and, that we want what is best for them.
FCA: ideal? Maybe.
At this time, in this place, God’s plan for us at French Camp Academy is good and perfect. No matter our status—staff or student—we are here because He truly cares for us. He is in every conversation, at every event, in the depths of despair, and the heights of joy.
We are His family and He always does what’s right. He is our loving Father, faithful and true. This is the message we live out at French Camp Academy.