L.Cruz, senior: 11,890 minutes remaining

Heads or tails. Tails or heads.

Heads is ask—no, now tails is ask.

L Cruz, then a junior, flipped the coin in front on top of her laptop, as she sat in her seventh period AP Psychology class. This was the way L made most of her decisions—but more often than not, it led to this: flipping the outcome with each flip of the coin.

“Alright, I’m going to tell him,” L thought, palms sweating, trying to rationalize the fact that she needed to ask for help.

No one usually ever stayed behind in Mr. Matthew Kalwasinski’s, Psychology teacher, class, but that day, after L had spent all day racking up the nerve to ask—to ask if L could stay in that classroom for lunch after getting picked on for weeks—someone stayed behind.

“Mr. K looked at me after, and he was like, ‘oh, what’s up?’ Boisterous, really loud. And I just burst into tears,” L said. “In the rush of things, I explained everything that was happening and how I needed somewhere to go. Especially during the second semester, I started getting picked on. I didn’t have anywhere to sit because I had gone through a bit of a fallout with the only people that I knew, and really talked to, so it was devastating for me socially.”

Asking for help in that moment was not the only thing that changed the trajectory of L’s time in high school. Prior to that year, to that class, everything in L’s life had felt as though it was burning. During the pandemic, school had simply felt like a joke—she had lost several family members, the state of the world was awful and it had gotten to the point where L didn’t even bother checking PowerSchool anymore.

But that changed with Mr. K’s class. There was finally a structure, unlike the time spent during eLearning. Everyday was the same, but not in a way that lacked meaning. There were no surprises, no sudden due dates, nothing that could harm her.

“The formula was perfect for me as somebody who needed organization to get back into school,” L said. “It was just the perfect and I really kind of blossomed under the feeling of wanting to do well and wanting to succeed in my class because like, I want to do well in that class.”

Now, in her senior year, L aids for one of Mr. K’s classes.

“Getting to stay during lunch was really nice, and I have a lot to be grateful for,” L said. “If I hadn’t had that support system—he introduced to the school social worker—because of Mr. K and his spirit and the resources that I was exposed to; I never really had influence. I never really bothered trying to ask for help, because I had poor experiences in the past, but like, I aim for Mr. K now. He was actually the one to tell me that I won the creative writing contest. He has some of my artwork up in his classroom.”