September 26, 2016
“My other teachers never really took the time to get to know me,” Emily Lloyd, a grade 10 student at the Streetfront Alternative Program told me after school on Friday. “They taught you but if you didn’t understand or get it, they moved on and just left me. Streetfront’s totally different. They take the time to always help. And not just school stuff but personal stuff and stuff with family. “
Emily is a remarkable kid. Looking at her, you always get the impression she is about to tell you a very funny joke!
I’m sitting beside her in Streetfront’s classroom, with images of Lou Reed, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, John Coltrane, Mark Rothko and Patti Smith on the walls. I can’t help but get the feeling that she needs to unload some personal things.
As I start to ask her questions, her eyes light up and she starts telling me her story. She can’t keep pace with the things she wants to get out. Stories of sadness and disappointment start to unfold. Tales of her feeling insecure and anxious at school, always doubting her abilities become a constant thread.
“When I got to high school things started to really go bad,” she comments. “I never felt happy there. I was in a few classes I shouldn’t have been in and then, with my other courses, I couldn’t get the help I needed to understand the work. Because I wasn’t doing so well in school, I started to avoid those classes. Now I was skipping school and doing things that definitely weren’t making me feel very good about myself. I needed a change. My friend Sierra started attending Streetfront and all she could say was how awesome it was. She was attending 100% of the time, getting good grades and even running marathons!!! I couldn’t believe it. I begged my mom for a whole month, everyday pleading to let me go to Streetfront. She finally said yes and it’s been the best decision of my life.”
Emily joined Streetfront in April 2016 and within weeks her life started going in a positive direction. “I fit in instantly. The kids and staff encouraged me and made me feel welcome.
Trevor teaches in a totally different way. He makes learning fun, always entertaining us even though he is actually teaching us.”
Emily quickly adapted to the unique curriculum at Streetfront. “I used to play all kinds of sports but that had fallen off. Once I got to Streetfront, all those good memories and experiences I had had with sports, returned.” She wasn’t so sure about their vaunted running program, “At the start, running was really hard. I was barely making the 5 k’s but I stuck with it. I then moved to 7’s and then 10’s. Trevor ran with me on my 10’s and he knew how to keep me motivated. He talked and talked and then before I knew what had happened, we were done.”
Emily continued with her run progression, culminating with a Streetfront mainstay – the 18.7 km Deep Cove run. “I was so nervous before we left for Deep Cove. I had only been at Streetfront for a little over a month and now I was trying to run to Deep Cove. I was really scared crossing the Second Narrows Bridge. It’s so high. But we kept on running and at about 15 km we saw Barry with the bus. We ran over got some water and that really helped motivate me. The rest was easy.”
Emily was preparing for her real goal of running the BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon in early June. She was plagued with self-doubt early in the race. “I started panicking at 3 km. I was bawling and convincing myself I couldn’t do this. Trevor ran with me and kept telling me to breathe and relax. He convinced me that if I took control of my breathing, I’d be able to do this. He actually was pretty tough on me. He told me I had worked too hard to give up. He said that I’d have to face my classmates as one of only 2 kids to have never finished a race. He convinced me that trying was everything and failing was not an option.” Emily fought through the inner demons and started to feel strong. “Trevor had to stay with another girl while she used the washroom. He told me to run ahead and never get off the course. He said he’d catch up with me in one or two kilometres .”
Stokes thought he’d quickly see Emily a few 100 metres ahead. When he resumed running, Emily was nowhere in sight.
He started panicking himself, “I stated texting Gord (Streetfront counsellor) and Sierra trying to see if they had heard from Emily. I was convinced something had happened. She either had dropped out, got off the course or was in need of medical attention.” Stokes kept running for the next 14 km trying to track Emily down. When he hit the Burrard Bridge (2.3 km from the finish) he caught up to Emily. Stokes was in disbelief, “Emily was in absolute control. She was not concerned or anxious at all!!! She was running with confidence. In fact she was doing so well, she called her aunt and convinced her to skip out of work and join her mom at the finish line.”
Emily describes the moment she crossed the finish line as the “best feeling in my life”. The Streetfront staff speak often of a photo Stokes took of Emily and her mom, “We’ve been doing this so long and for 8-10 years we’d cross the finish line and there wouldn’t be a single parent there celebrating with their kids. But that has started to change and the embrace captured between Emily and her mom was so pure, so tender. It was absolutely perfect and exactly what Emily needed in her life.”
Emily will finish her Grade 10 year with Streetfront and plans to run the Seattle Half in November and then take on the BMO Full in May 2017. That will finish off a remarkable year considering she’s dead set on being selected as one of the 15 students to go to Patagonia, Chile with the Street2Peak Project in March 2017.
“I don’t ever want to leave Streetfront. I’m trying to convince them to go to Grade 12,” Emily laughs. As our conversation ends it’s hard not to think she just might be able to convince them.