As November-national adoption month-begins, over 100,000 children in foster care nationwide wait for permanent families. Others have intoxicated parents and receive little support at home. When such needy children come to school, many teachers are overwhelmed by the difficulty of helping students with such a shaky base. Some give up.
And then there are teachers like Krissy Myhrman.
When the Vashon Island, Wash., native began teaching at Tyee Park Elementary School in Lakewood, Wash., in early September 1998, she was a first-year teacher who had been hired at 3 p.m.
the day before school began.
She had no time to prepare lessons, nor to brace herself for an environment in which more than half of the students received free or reduced-price meals. "They were all in need," Miss Myhrman said, reflecting on her class of fifth-graders, "[but] for some reason, one student stood out to me."
Samone. She was tiny, had short hair, tan skin, and a raspy voice. "She stuck to me like glue," Miss Myhrman said. "She stayed [inside] almost every day at recess to do whatever she could to help me out."
As their relationship grew, Samone began talking about her home life, namely her mother's alcoholism, abusive boyfriend, and regular disappearances. Police often visited the child's house. Disturbed by what she learned, Miss Myhrman began bringing Samone and her younger sister Salina to the Myhrman family cabin for the weekends.
"As they continued to spend time with us on weekends, I developed a deep love for Samone and Salina," said Miss Myhrman's then-fiancé Lee Durston. "It became so hard to drop them off at the trailer park on Sunday nights knowing what we were returning them to."
By March 2000, Salina began showing signs of depression and had reported parental neglect to a school counselor. The girls' mother was planning to move to escape action by Child Protective Services.
Deeply concerned about the girls' welfare, Miss Myhrman and Mr. Durston began praying about whether they should open their future home to the girls. Miss Myhrman said, "We were only 23 and 24. We had little money, a tiny apartment, and no parenting experience." They were also nervous about sacrificing their freedom as newlyweds, but they had a strong sense that God wanted them to do this: "He didn't care about our credentials, just that we were willing."
The girls moved in with Miss Myhrman, now Mrs. Durston, three weeks before the couple's April 14, 2000, wedding. The transition, however, wasn't a honeymoon. "The first year was by far the hardest," Mrs. Durston recalls. "[The girls] were angry and the only people they had to let it out on were Lee and me." Samone and Salina's biological mother visited weekly, but she was often intoxicated and the visits emotionally drained them.
A year and a half of helping the girls also drained Mrs. Durston. "Real life had settled in, and I felt like God hadn't paid me back in the ways I thought He would." As she prayed, she said, she realized that God did not owe her anything for her sacrifices, but that He does promise to support her through them.
The Durstons' daughter Aleia was born in November 2001, and despite the ongoing challenges, they officially adopted Samone and Salina in 2003. Since then, the lives of Samone, now 16, and Salina, 15, have continued to improve. Their once failing grades are now above average and they have become leaders at church and school. "They are not even the same children," Mrs. Durston said. "They have gone from cold, angry, scared mini-adults to loving, growing, funny kids who enjoy life. They are a miracle."
The Durstons are preparing to welcome more children into their home through foster care and adoption. Mrs. Durston said, "It is such a scary thing to feel like you might give this parenting thing all you've got and still not have it turn out right. It is a continual step of faith for us to remember that these are God's children, that we are imperfect, and to place them in His hands."