Western Reserve Public Media


Middle School Lesson Plan:
The Story of Erica

A deafening silence swept across the room as Erica V. stood and pulled a piece of paper from the hip pocket of her jeans. Nineteen uncertain pairs of eyes watched as she slowly stepped to the front of the room, placed the crumpled wad of paper on the podium and wiped her hands across its surface in a desperate attempt to iron out the seemingly permanent creases.

It was Celebration Day, a day when eighth grade emerging writers slurped and sipped sugary teas, dunked homemade cookies in milky coffee and hot chocolate, and shared their best pieces of writing from the past quarter in an environment where they felt safe and protected. One by one they proudly read their masterpieces — final drafts of writing developed over a period of nine weeks. Disbelief filled the room when Erica V., who hadn’t written more than a line or two the entire last half of the year, began to read.

“My Best Friend,” she started.

Eyes moved quickly away from Erica as students, glancing nervously at each other, shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

“My best friend was somebody I don’t remember,” she continued. “Many people loved him and a few didn’t. He had an alcohol addiction since he was 17 years old. He had a police record and was hardly ever sober. His name was Mike.”

Erica paused. Silence and surprise continued as she once again became the focus of all attention, this time for her words rather than her actions. This was not the unpredictable, angry 14-year-old they had become used to.

Erica V. wasn’t entirely new to our class. She had been with us all through elementary school. She laughed with us and played games with us on the playground. When seventh grade started, Erica didn’t. Rumors flew about “juvie” and something about a home for girls in Iowa. Halfway through eighth grade, a different Erica showed up in our English class, this one with an image to protect, one punctuated by the snake tattooed on her arm, the too-tight jeans and the tough-girl walk that carried her through the halls.

“I don’t write,” Erica said slowly and calmly as Ms. Crowley stood next to her chair the day she arrived.

“We all write in here, Erica,” Ms. Crowley returned. “And we share what we write with those we trust. You’ll come to know that this is a safe place to be.”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me. I … don’t … write,” Erica said as she leaned back in her seat, stretched her legs and glared. She wasn’t about to risk her image because of a dumb woman who didn’t have a clue.

“Mike had a lot of good in him,” Erica V. went on. “He liked to hunt and fish, and he liked to drink.”

Erica paused again. A tear slowly streaked its way down her cheek as she related the story of Mike and his friends, Jimmy and Charlie, drinking at a party, driving home and speeding into a tree, instantly killing all three of them. After a deep breath, one that lifted her shoulders a full four or five inches, Erica looked up from her paper and finished.

“Mike was my dad.”

As she walked to the back of the room, she wiped a final tear from her eye and slipped into her seat. Three minutes of complete silence was finally broken when one by one, students began applauding and Tim stretched his arm across the aisle to rest his hand on Erica’s shoulder.

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You can access a Web-streamed version of this story at www.WesternReservePublicMedia.org/trauma/video.htm.



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