How a teacher tried to show students they are special

By Sarah Larimer

After a teen in her class attempted suicide, Colorado teacher Brittni Darras set out to show her students that they were special by writing each of them a note. Photo / Courtesy of Brittni Darras
After a teen in her class attempted suicide, Colorado teacher Brittni Darras set out to show her students that they were special by writing each of them a note. Photo / Courtesy of Brittni Darras

It was, Brittni Darras said, the first time she had ever cried at a parent-teacher conference.

Darras, a 25-year-old English teacher at a Colorado high school, was speaking to a mother, who came to the meeting with a list of her daughter's teachers.

Next to each of the names was a "yes" or "no," indicating whether the girl wanted her mother to reveal the reason she hadn't been in classes for a couple weeks, Darras said.

"And so when her mum sat down, she said, 'you have a yes next to your name,' " Darras said.

So the mother relayed the story: Her daughter had deleted her social media accounts and written letters to those closest to her. That she had attempted suicide. That the police rushed in and stopped her, and the girl was missing school because she was recovering in a hospital.

"And her mum was sitting there in tears," Darras told the Washington Post. "I started crying. Her mum said that she had no idea."

The news was a shock to Darras, too.

"She's beautiful. She has friends. She comes in class, and she's laughing. She's the top in my class, always has A's, always does the best job on the assignments," Darras said.

"She's just a phenomenal, phenomenal human being. So I never would have guessed that she was struggling."

Darras wrote a letter to the girl, delivered to the hospital via the girl's mother, telling her how much she cared, how the girl was missed in class, and that they wanted her back.

"Her daughter's reaction was that she was amazed that somebody could say such sweet things because she didn't think anybody would miss her if she was gone," Darras said.

That, Darras said, was when she realised "something had to be done".

"Because hearing that from somebody who is so bright, so beautiful, so fun - to understand that she didn't think that she had a purpose, she didn't think that anybody cared, that's the hardest thing," Darras said.

"Because I wouldn't have expected it from her. So that's just when I realised that something had to be done to make these students realise that they each are special, and they do matter."

Here's what Darras did: Over a two-month span, she said she composed about 130 notes that went to all of her students, she said on Facebook last week. The messages were handwritten, so the students knew each note was authentic and took time to compose.

Brittni Darras, a 25-year-old English teacher at a Colorado high school. Photo / Courtesy of Brittni Darras.
Brittni Darras, a 25-year-old English teacher at a Colorado high school. Photo / Courtesy of Brittni Darras.

She wrote cards in an airport, during a weekend trip. She wrote them at school, during odd hours after everyone else had left for the day. She sat on her back porch and wrote. Then, after the students finished their final exams, she handed out the cards before the bell rang, she said.

It was possible the high school kids wouldn't care, or at least would play it cool. Darras said she didn't think they'd even feel comfortable reading the cards on the spot. But they did open them. One student jumped up and held her card in the air, saying she'd keep it forever. Parents emailed, saying their sons or daughters shared the notes.

As her last class filed out of the room, Darras said, every single student gave her a hug on the way out the door.

"Which was really powerful," she said.

Darras said she hoped her effort was a reminder that everyone has the capacity to make a difference - even with a simple note of encouragement. Or, in her case, 130 notes of encouragement.

"I want these kids to know that they're special, and that they've made an impact, and they are each unique in their own way. And seeing them light up, and have this huge smile across their face, and jumping up to give me a hug," she said, "that's all I could ask for in the world."


Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Washington Post

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