The Advocate Files

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

I first met Ramone in the middle of his Sophomore year in high school. He was good looking and seemed pretty smart to me, though his academic career was on a sharp downward curve. It seemed that Ramone had no record of achievement or identified strength. Unless you counted his flair for taking the opposing view of any opinion, directive, or suggestion.

His disciplinary record was impressive. If Ramone was interested in a life that involved doing little while appearing busy, task avoidance, strategic attendance, creative procrastination, and the art of getting attention while also staying under the radar–at least some of the time–he’d have been gold.

Ramone had two things going for him. He had charm, and he was smart. It was most likely those two characteristics that figured into his somehow having been promoted to the tenth grade while never having passed a single course. That, and his school district had a limited budget and so failed to offer Ramone the help he needed to be successful. It’s not supposed to work that way.

Ramone had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder–ADHD. I suppose the school district’s budget issues plus the fact that his mother spoke mainly Spanish may have led a rather complacent school staff to assign him a rather low ranking on the school districts’s list of priorities. I could see that Ramone didn’t always motivate people to want to help him.

In fact, Ramone was on his way out. A meeting had been scheduled to move Ramone to an “alternate school”. He was toast. And I was his advocate.

Since the beginning of tenth grade, Ramone had cut class fifty-five times, skipped an equal number of detentions, skipped school entirely more than 30 days (which ironically, resulted in numerous out of school suspensions). He had been found on school property numerous times while he was on out of school suspension for those illegal absences. And now he had once again been insubordinate to a teacher, with colorful commentary that didn’t engender any sympathy on the part of his teacher or the principal.

I got up early the day of his meeting to read the newspaper I a short article about a robbery caught my eye. The robbery took place at a fast food restaurant in the town where my young client occasionally attended school. Four young men had entered the restaurant with guns pointed and ordered everyone into the walk-in freezer.

According to the article, everyone did as they were told except for one customer who ran out the door and across the street to a pharmacy where he called police. The non compliant customer who bolted was shot at four times as he darted across the street to the pharmacy.
All four shots had missed their receding target, and so the perps had continued to herd the remaining customers and staff into the freezer. They were still in the process of burglarizing the place when police arrived and captured them in the act. Later, when I arrived at the school where Ramone’s Committee on Special Education would take place, Ramone met me at the door.
“Did you see me in the paper?” He asked, excitedly.
Immediately I knew. “That was YOU?”!

I’d rarely seen a smile bigger than the one on Ramone’s face at that moment. He told me the whole story: He and his cousin were having a bite around 9:30 pm (later than his curfew allowed), when the gunmen raided the restaurant and ordered everyone into the freezer. Everyone–including Ramone’s cousin–did as they were told and were heading toward the freezer. Everyone except Ramone, that is.
While everyone in the restaurant was busy complying with the gunmen’s orders, Ramone, who if you remember has ADHD (with impulsivity) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (did I mention that?), did what he always did when someone told him what to do. He did the opposite; he ran the other way.

It was Ramone who had run out of the restaurant. It was Ramone who had been shot at four times as he ran across the street to call the police. It was Ramone who had saved the day, albeit after his curfew. And now we would be having a meeting that would most likely put the last nail into the coffin of Ramone’s high school career.

When the meeting began, I told the assembled teachers, psychologist, guidance counselor and Special Education Director that Ramone had something important to tell them.

“Before we begin, I want you to know that we have a genuine hero sitting here.” I asked Ramone to tell his story. When he was done, while the committee members still were absorbing the details, I said to Ramone, “You have oppositional defiant disorder. Mostly it gets you into trouble. But this time it was a strength. The trick is to learn to choose when you will be oppositional, and when you’ll go along with things. Power is the ability to choose and take action based on your choice”.

The school psychologist picked up the the ball from there, discussing a goal to help Ramone learn to choose his behaviors and to be aware of the fact that he could, in fact, learn to make choices.

The chairperson of the committee told Ramone an assembly would be planned for the next day to honor him for his bravery.
And the committee decided Ramone would remain at the high school, which didn’t have anywhere near enough heroes on its roll