Sweta Asher can feel the weight of what her students are going through when they walk into her classroom each morning at PEP Hopewell on Cleveland’s West Side. Many of these children – some as young as kindergarten age – have witnessed or experienced things that no adult even should.
By the time these kids enroll in a PEP Day Treatment Center, it’s likely they’re already at least a year behind in grade-level performance. The emotional and behavioral challenges they face – often because of the trauma they’ve experienced – has stalled their academic success.
It’s Sweta’s job to help them overcome that adversity.
It’s Sweta’s job to tell them they aren’t a failure.
It’s Sweta’s job to give them hope.
It’s Sweta’s calling.
“There are not a lot of people who want to give these kids a chance,” she said. “There are days when I feel like I can’t do this. But when I see how they’ve grown – how far they’ve come – during the school year, I know this is where I need to be.”
Yes, Sweta teaches her kids what they need to know based on the state’s standards – language arts, math and the like. They’ve taught her just as much – particularly patience and that it’s OK not to be perfect. In fact, they’ve taught her that there’s beauty in imperfection. Sweta’s students also brought to life for her one of the core tenants of PEP’s anchoring philosophy of Re-ED: Time is an ally. With time, every child can learn and grow.
“I love seeing the excitement in the kids’ faces when they finally get whatever we’re studying,” said Sweta, who is quick to credit the work of her classroom colleagues, Taylor Banks and Steve Gerlach. “It’s an even bigger feeling when you’re working with a population that has been told they’re failures or that they can’t do it. They can do it. I love witnessing that.”
Sweta’s story is hardly unique within PEP Day Treatment Centers. For PEP teacher-counselors, it’s more than a job. It’s a caring family of professionals with shared values, working toward the same goal of helping every child – no matter the situation, struggle or circumstance – reach their full potential and find some joy in each day.