By Jenna Ebener
(Editor’s note: Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)
A sign that I am with the perfect population for me is when I reflect on how focused I become when my students are faced with a particular challenge. One time, I was with a student heading back to his classroom after a session together. We had to walk down two hallways, go outside and enter his classroom in a separate building. When presented with a physical challenge of this magnitude, the student exhibited frustration through self-injurious behaviors. I responded on instinct by using mats to block him and collaborating with his para-educators to anticipate what he might do. Meanwhile, we were keeping him moving towards his destination.
After we safely arrived in his classroom, a nurse and our principal came up to me and expressed their appreciation for our collaboration and efficiency. It was not until they spoke to me that I had even realized we passed them in the hallway.
When I am with a student in crisis, my attention is 100 percent on that student. I am constantly focusing on what is happening in that instance, how I can keep the student and those around him or her safe, and how to best help the student. I am not aware of anything else going on that is not impacting the student. This single-minded focus reinforces the certainty that my place is at this school. God has blessed me with the gift of being able to tune out distractions and focus my soul on the student in need. I let go in those situations and let God channel through me. Looking back, I can see how God has been preparing me for these crises in an indirect way — through lifeguarding.
Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be a lifeguard. Swimming was my favorite sport, my mother had been a lifeguard, and I simply knew that was what I wanted to do. When I turned 15, I took the test and became the youngest lifeguard at my local YMCA. I was a lifeguard for seven years, and it trained me to be vigilant of my surroundings and to keep my head in crisis situations. Responding became second nature to me, and I took it very seriously. I stopped lifeguarding after entering graduate school, and I thought I had left that part of my life behind me.
While I always enjoyed the responsibility and preparedness I gained from that role, I now recognize that lifeguarding was another way God has been guiding me all of my life. The seven years of training accustomed me to responding effectively in crisis situations, taking initiative and delegating roles. Those skills have been invaluable in my time as a school social worker in responding to almost daily crisis calls. It is amazing to me that something I knew I wanted to do was really God giving me the opportunity to develop skills I would need in the future. The more I reflect, the more I see how God has laid the foundation for the path I am currently on.