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It Can Get Better

Educator’s hard life experiences inspire students

Growing up, Jason Powell was subjected to horrific abuse. His stepfather beat, shot, stabbed, burned and psychologically tormented him throughout his youth, and manipulated him into committing crimes including theft, arson and assault.

The stepfather was finally sent to prison, but Powell’s mother died right before he graduated from high school. The teen sought and was granted legal guardianship of his half-sisters, ages 9, 8 and 2, and suddenly became a parent to three children while working three jobs and attending community college.

“I couldn’t live for myself, I had to devote my life to them,” Powell says, recalling how difficult things were. “I realized that the only thing we actually own is what’s in our head — our success, our development. We have a choice and an opportunity and it’s 100% on us.”

Today Powell uses his experiences to motivate seniors in his high school music classes, usually in an end-of-year “pep talk.” I use my life stories to help them see that they can become anything they want to be, regardless of their past or what hurdles life might throw their way. It doesn’t matter how bad it is — it can get better, as long as you keep fighting and you’re willing to put in the work.”

Students have been transformed by his talk. One wrote him several years later, reminding Powell that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the class because of anger management issues, and telling him that he had just graduated with a business degree from UC Berkeley — which he credits to Powell.

Now Powell is sharing his story more widely, through “Redheaded Stepchild.” “This year I decided to do something brave, something difficult, something that I truly believe could help bring awareness and possibly change to a large demographic of students. I wrote and published an autobiography on the horrors of child abuse, [and how I] somehow made it out as a well-adjusted and successful adult.”

Powell, who has a doctorate in education, is a member of Palm Springs Teachers Association and currently teaches symphony and choir. But he has also taught mariachi, classical guitar and more. He is in his 16th year at Palm Springs High School, where the total minority enrollment is 86% (71% Hispanic), and 100% of students received free/reduced lunch.

Powell is hopeful “Red-headed Stepchild” will bring visibility to an often-unseen issue. “Many are simply unaware of the realities of the child abuses that are happening in some homes,” he says. “By sharing my past, I believe I can help diminish this gap in understanding and empathy.

“I am hoping educators will use my book to help students know that they have a voice when it comes to their safety, and to inspire our children to become more.”

Educators: Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse

Under State Law, educators (including classified staff) are mandated reporters, meaning they have a legal obligation to report knowledge of or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect. According to the California Department of Education (CDE) child abuse and/or child neglect can be any of the following:

  • A physical injury inflicted on a child by another person other than by accidental means.
  • The sexual abuse, assault or exploitation of a child.
  • The negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for the child’s welfare under circumstances indicating harm or threatened harm to the child’s health or welfare.
  • The willful harming or endangerment of the person or health of a child, any cruel or inhumane corporal punishment or any injury resulting in a traumatic condition.

For CDE guidelines on how to identify potential signs of child abuse/neglect as well as how to make a report, go to Child Abuse Identification & Reporting Guidelines.

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