We have a hedgehog in our class. We call her hedgehog so we can talk about her in English without her knowing. And because, at the first sign of danger, she balls up and puts out her spikes.

We have recently come to understand hedgehog’s belligerence and refusal to participate in class as a defence mechanism. She’s ten years old and only in second grade. But, after some cajoling, it has become clear that she  doesn’t know the alphabet well enough to sound out words. She can copy from the board, but doesn’t know what she’s writing. To cover this up, when she comes across something in class she can’t do – which is often – she just refuses to participate.

It’s not hard to imagine that lots of people have given up on hedgehog. It’s very easy to get frustrated with her. At home, we understand that her dad has died, and her mum’s boyfriend hits her and kicks her out on the street (which obviously goes well beyond ‘giving up’). At school, successive teachers have probably tried, but failed, to make progress, and so leave her to her own devices. Relying on short term volunteers  exacerbates this ].

The truth is that we give up a little on hedgehog too. We have other students that need attention. There’s only so long you can wait for her to respond, or sit down, or pay attention, before the rest of the class moves on. We could even put her back to first grade, but that would be another blow to her already fragile self confidence. And ultimately , when we leave Mariposas in a couple of months, it will no longer be our problem, and we too will move on.

In the meantime, we’re doing our best to be sympathetic to hedgehog’s behavior in class – to give her the attention we gather she misses at home, and specific support with the areas she finds tough. That means alphabet sessions before school, and enjoying the things she likes at school with her: art class, and piggy backs at sports day.

Maybe the most sobering part of this is that hedgehog, all of ten, is just a few years away from turning up in one of the lactation classes at Mariposas’ community centre. The transition from girlhood to motherhood can be quick here. Our best hope is to create as much of a community around her possible. A community of services, and people, that are hard wired not to give up.

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