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Finding Our Forever(3)

By:Brenda Novak



“I understand. So that’s why you answered our ad?”

One of the reasons—though not the most important. Ironically enough, she’d been offered a full-time position for the coming year at the school for which she’d substituted most often, so she’d no longer needed the opportunity. The art teacher at Woodbridge High was retiring and had put in a good word for her. But, to her parents’ consternation, Cora had turned it down. Aiyana was here. That meant New Horizons offered something no other school could. “Yes.”

Aiyana peered at her more closely. “Is something wrong?”

Tears were getting the best of her despite all her efforts to suppress them. “Allergies,” Cora explained. “It’s that time of year. Fortunately, they don’t last long.”

“Would you like me to get you a tissue?”

Cora used her finger to remove the tear that was about to roll down her cheek. “No, I’m fine. My eyes are just...a little itchy, that’s all.”

“Let me know if you change your mind,” she said. “I’ll get you something if you need it. Meanwhile, I’d like to talk to you about the importance we place on art here at the ranch. Most other schools focus on core subjects, and as an accredited high school, we certainly make that a priority here, too. But it’s my feeling that our students cannot excel in those classes—in anything—if they’re too broken to care or try. I believe in healing those who will be healed by showing them the beauty of life and giving them a healthy form of expression. I guess it would be safe to say that, around here, you aren’t merely an extra, the first teacher to go when the budget gets tight. You are our most important teacher, which is why I asked to meet with you before you started in a couple of weeks.”

“I admire your philosophy.” Cora agreed with it, too. But hearing that she was the most important teacher at the ranch was intimidating, since this was her first full-time position.

“I want my boys to be educated,” Aiyana continued, “but even more than that, I want them to be whole, to find peace.”

“Makes sense to me.”

“Good. I should warn you that most have never been introduced to drawing, painting or pottery. They think school has to be boring and hard, which is what makes it so rewarding to introduce them to the fun side of learning. Creative endeavors are one of the best tools we have to ease the pain and anger that’s inside so many of them.”

“Does that mean all of the students here come from a difficult background?” she asked.

“Quite a few. Some have been abandoned. Some have been abused. Some have behavioral issues that can’t be blamed on any of those things.”

“You mean like autism.”

“We have a few autistic students but only those who are highly functioning. More often it’s something else—a chemical imbalance, genetic factors. No one can say for sure. Some brains are just wired differently than others.”

“Those boys must be the toughest to reach.”

“Sometimes we don’t reach them at all. But, that said, we’re going to reach all we can.”

Cora could easily imagine the rich parents of a boy who had behavioral problems being willing to pay a large sum to enroll him at the ranch. But how could orphans afford such a school? “What about the costs associated with coming here—for those who don’t have parents, I mean? Does another member of the family pay for it? Or maybe the state?”

“We get some state assistance, we have private benefactors and we do two big fund-raisers a year. As much as thirty percent of our students come here without paying a dime. This year, that equates to eighty students. But as long as we can meet our monthly expenses, I’m satisfied. If we have extra, I’d much rather use it to try to save another boy.”

Cora almost felt guilty that she’d be taking a salary. She nearly spoke up to say she could make do with less, but she knew that wasn’t the case. In LA, she’d been able to augment her income by waiting tables on the weekends. Chances were, in such a small community, she wouldn’t have the opportunity to get a second job. “That’s very noble of you.”

Aiyana gestured as if she wasn’t interested in praise. “I only mention it so that you’ll understand what’s important to me. It isn’t turning a profit—it’s making a difference. And I’m looking to work with people who are as invested in the progress of these boys as I am.”

“I understand. I’ll do my best,” Cora said. “But...why have you focused exclusively on helping boys? Why not girls? Or girls and boys? Do you have a strong gender preference or—”

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