The Show Must Go On

With the holidays well behind us, there are several fond memories of family and friends that I will take into the New Year. However, the one moment that has stayed with me is from Grafton’s holiday show in Winchester. For the past five years, we have hosted a musical holiday performance celebrating the talents, energy and spirit of our students.

As in years past, we had an exceptional amount of enthusiasm from our students and the large audience in attendance. During the show, each class performed with the students taking turns at the microphone. Just as the 16-18 year old boys took the stage, I noticed that one young man seemed unsettled. Despite having done a fantastic job in the rehearsal the day before, when he noticed the lights and crowd, he became reluctant to participate.

His teacher took him into the hallway to help soothe his fears and encourage him to join his class on stage. When he returned to the auditorium, he was markedly calmer. Unfortunately, when he stepped back on stage, his agitation returned and he began swinging his arms aggressively, striking the teacher and a fellow student. The Grafton staff successfully managed the situation, using a trauma-informed approach.

Within seconds of the young man becoming physically aggressive, the Grafton staff was able to deescalate the situation though distraction techniques and by using Ukeru Systems’ blocking pads so that no was injured.

The entire incident was handled with professionalism, grace and dignity.  I can only imagine the scene had our staff not been trained in a trauma-informed approach. This young man would likely have been restrained, the audience and fellow students would have been further traumatized and the show would have been shut down.

But our staff used comfort over control. They used dignity over dismissal. They used integrity over intimidation.  And the show went on. Jay*, the Grafton client emceeing the event, didn’t even miss a beat, seamlessly introducing the next act without hesitation.

Once the young man was safely escorted off the stage, a parent stood up and yelled “Great job, Grafton!,” followed audience applause. When we reached out to that parent following the performance to ask why she felt compelled to speak up, she told us that, though everyone felt badly for the child and teacher who got hurt, the incident was managed sensitively and the show went on.  She appreciated that at no time did the audience feel unsafe. “I just felt like something needed to be said to recognize the great job by the Grafton staff,” she said.

Grafton prides itself on giving our students more mainstream experiences like this holiday performance, talent shows, and graduation ceremonies. They deserve it! We have been very successful with orchestrating these activities without incident. An occurrence like this should not come as a surprise, however; the behavior of our students can be unpredictable. The best we can do is be properly trained to handle any situation appropriately, showing respect and dignity to our students and staff.

As the CEO of Grafton, I hear of injuries and altercations that happen on our campus fairly regularly; we are exceptionally diligent in our reporting of these incidents. In reality, they are a normal part of the environment. The analogy someone just shared with me is that working with students with behavioral challenges is akin to being a firefighter. No matter how well trained a firefighter may be, chances are he or she will eventually sustain a burn. But this was actually the very first time I have, personally, witnessed a teacher being struck by a student. It is a sobering moment for those of us not in the classroom day-to-day. I know for our staff, though, it is just part of the job.

I cannot tell you how proud I was that afternoon of our staff. I left with a better understanding of how our philosophy translates into action. I will carry that pride with me throughout 2018 and will always remember that the show must go on.

*Clients name has been changed to protect his privacy.