Juan Caballero, a senior at M-A, has struggled with a range of emotional problems for a large part of his life. These issues, namely anxiety, depression, and anger, emerged at a young age, and continued into his high school years, where they became apparent in the classroom. However, rather than separate him from his classmates, like adults did at his previous school, the teachers and staff members at M-A offered Caballero support, both emotionally and academically.
Explaining one of the root causes of his anger, Caballero stated, “I noticed how there were people around me who had known each other for years and they were such close friends. And whenever I tried to make the effort to try to meet new people, I was always pushed out because they knew each other; they had known each other for years but I was a stranger.” Even at a young age, Caballero felt excluded from his peer groups, and this pattern continued into high school.
Caballero described the complexities of his mental health issues, and that because they were all interconnected they “fueled” one another. “The anger made me feel hostile towards everyone around me and that hostility created fear.” Due to this fear, Caballero experienced anxiety and judged himself for his emotions. He also became depressed because he was overwhelmed, and believed he did not deserve to feel this pain. “I deserved to be able to be happy and smile and laugh, but at the same time the depression just dragged me down because it made me feel like ‘no you don’t deserve this…you’re not worthy of being happy, you can’t do that, you’re not good enough, you’re not strong enough’…and the anxiety fueled by all this turmoil led to me hiding away. I would start to hide from people, I would hide from others, I would hide from myself because I wasn’t able to face any of my problems without this incessant need to run away, to try to escape something I felt I couldn’t but I had to try.”
Caballero purposely avoided people by ditching class. His freshman year, he failed five of his classes, mainly because he did not attend them. The only class he passed was P.E. because he had it first period, and his parents dropped him off at school in the morning. After first period, he often either left the school entirely or found hiding places within the school to avoid confronting his classes. “I felt that I couldn’t handle being in this environment. I couldn’t handle the pressure of having to learn new subjects, taking tests, doing homework.” He began receiving help from Star Vista counselors at the end of his freshman year, but because it was so late in the school year, he was unable to improve his grades enough. Consequently, Caballero retook all five classes at summer school and online classes.
Caballero recounted the immense role the Star Vista counselors played in his mental health improvement. Each year, the program paired him with a new counselor, who was informed on his specific case. He initially found it very challenging to open up to a stranger because he feared “they wouldn’t even be willing to help [him] because [he] felt like a massive lost cause at that point.” However, when he realized that the counselors genuinely cared about his well-being, he gradually began to confide in them, noticing an improvement in his willingness to share his emotions.
One person in particular who influenced Caballero was Ms. Erica, a Star Vista counselor who worked with him from his sophomore year through part of his junior year. She helped him uncover his passion for writing and identified it as a method for voicing all of the emotions he had been struggling to articulate.“I could never get [the words] out because I always felt like I was drowning. She helped me figure out that through writing I could free up all these creations I had, all of these things that I had within my mind that I judged unfit to be shared.” Writing not only gave Caballero the opportunity to express his feelings in an alternative way, but also allowed him to take pride in a new skill, boosting his confidence.
While his counselors offered him emotional support, Caballero received academic assistance from Mike Molieri, a teacher in the Academic Resource Department. Molieri met with him as often as once a week, and he held him accountable for his performance regarding attendance, completing homework, and receiving appropriate grades. He also aided Caballero in bringing his concerns to teachers, an action that his anxiety caused him to struggle with. Caballero is grateful for the lack of judgement Moileri showed him, and his constant attention not just to his academic accomplishments but also to his mental health, through his genuine concern and encouragement.
Addressing the anxiety he felt in class was challenging for Caballero and his teachers. “I was scared that people around me were all looking at me and talking about me…I would stay silent, I would start to look away from the lesson and I would just sort of close off.”
He initially suggested that teachers remove him from class when he displayed these symptoms. However, his teachers decided to instead recognize these signs and make an active effort to encourage him to concentrate on the material. Looking back, Caballero recognized the importance of being surrounded by others through his experience, allowing him to “cope” with his issues rather than avoid them. “If I hadn’t had all the help I did, I would have never been able to come out of the shell I had. I wouldn’t have been able to even attempt to overcome my problems.”
Not only did Caballero pass all of his passes sophomore year, but he received only As and Bs. He has continued this pattern throughout his high school career, and it is a testament to his strong work ethic, which emerged after he overcame obstacles that were holding him back. “It’s just such a dramatic shift. It was something Mr. Mo always made sure to congratulate me on…He was always on me to never forget the massive gap I covered with the help I got. He always wanted me to remember that by having had the help I needed, I could do something I felt I could never accomplish.”
Additionally, Caballero succeeded in developing friendships in high school, explaining, “there were a lot of people that I met who I actually became friends with who felt the same way because they themselves didn’t have these groups they were connected to, so they became my friends. In a way we created our own group, but thanks to us knowing what it felt like to not belong, we are always open to other people who feel the exact same way we did.”
He hopes to encourage students at M-A who understand the loneliness he felt when he was isolated. “You’re not the only one who’s still alone who doesn’t have a really close group of friends. There are a lot of people around you that are still alone and who more than anything want to be your friend because having you there will make you a lot happier.”
The support Caballero received from so many members of the M-A community motivated him to battle his issues, rather than let them overwhelm him. While his anger, depression and anxiety did not just disappear, the coping mechanisms he has acquired and his new love of learning have helped him flourish at M-A.
Looking into the future, Caballero desires to study either psychology or history. He enjoys learning about people and their methods of understanding and how they process ideas. Additionally, Caballero hopes to pursue a teaching career because of the enthusiasm his history teachers have exhibited. “They love what they do and they started pulling me in and I started loving learning about history and world events and things that happen.”
It is evident that Caballero’s teachers and counselors made a lasting impact on his life, and helped him develop into the person he is today.