07/01/2007 - When Charleen Bichel was a little girl, each time she and her family would drive from Oregon to Minnesota to visit family, they'd travel through our state and she'd say, "I'm gonna live in Wyoming some day."
She tells me, "There were no fences anywhere and everything was so open." She told her parents she'd be able to ride and ride and ride her horse all over. "Wyoming felt like freedom to me."
|Charleen Bichel (click for larger version)|
And then years later, when she was all grown up and working in Washington, D.C., she met her future husband, Thomas Bichel, who had just helped his parents move to D.C. It seems that Tom had planned to return to his home state in three months' time but, smitten by Charleen, he ended up staying two years. And, as it turned out, Tom was a Casper native. Divine providence? You decide. But they've been married 35 years now, have kids and grandkids, and live on a small parcel of land in our wide-open spaces where Charleen and Tom could "ride and ride and ride their horses all over."
We in Casper are richer for having Charleen live here. And we're richer for having Charleen work for our school district for the past 10 years in the District's Safe Schools division. The job is complicated, multilayered, requires superb powers of observation, and demands a heart that's as big as Wyoming's wide open spaces. Oh, and it requires a love for children. Particularly adolescents. And a desire to help them learn to make choices that will steer them toward successful and productive lives.
In her job, Charleen has two supervisors. The first is Safe Schools Administrator Wayne Beatty under whose direction she receives continually updated training. The second is Mike Pickett, Principal of Roosevelt High School, where Charleen serves daily as Campus Supervisor and heads the Crisis Management Team.
All four of our high schools have both high-achieving and "at-risk" students. Though it has many high-achieving students and more enroll every year, Roosevelt has more than its fair share of at-risk students. An at-risk student is one who is at risk of dropping out of school.
Charleen's job duties at Roosevelt are twofold. Backed by Principal Mike Pickett and the dedicated faculty and staff, she focuses on school safety and on student advocacy.
1. Helping students to be safe from themselves.
Charleen confides that this is where her heart and soul is. It involves helping students learn to make choices that will help them "have a life that is not filled with trouble." Making healthy choices in their education, their home life, with the law, in relationships including friends, family, or boyfriend-girlfriend, and in job opportunities both future and present. It even includes making healthy choices in nutrition and exercise.
2. Helping students to be safe from each other.
Here Charleen helps students enhance their coping skills, develop constructive ways to manage their frustration, and resolve conflicts quickly and in a healthy way.
"I listen, listen, listen. I have to know the students. Which ones are having trouble at home or with the law or with other students or with a teacher. I monitor their body language, frustration levels, moods. I truly care about them as people."
She sees that students keep the rules of the school and the District. "If students learn to conform to legal rules, their lives will be easier. I really feel like I'm helping them when I bust them."
3. Helping students to be safe from outside influences.
Outside influences include safety concerns posed by people in the neighborhood or community, safety concerns posed by maintenance issues in or around Roosevelt's buildings and grounds, and even inclement weather.
Charleen sums up the safety aspect of her job. "I think of it all day long. I think of it all night long."
"I'm there to help students get a diploma. Make the right choices. Improve their people skills. Do they need help with housing, police, job advice?"
If students are in trouble with the law or on probation, Charleen helps them make choices that won't further complicate their young lives. Besides listening and talking to them, she documents their attendance, grades, attitudes, and behaviors so that when she goes to court with them, she can supply that information to the judge before he makes his decision. Hopefully, this helps students learn that it is the record of their own behavior, and not Charleen's purveyance of it, that gets them either deeper in trouble or off the hook.
"Most of the students know that I truly care about their future lives."
During our interview, Charleen told me about two programs that Roosevelt has implemented over the past couple of years which are showing positive results. Graduation ratios and attendance are up. Drop-out rates are down. I hope to describe these programs and successes in a later issue.