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One Child: A Case Study on Sheila

If one word could describe Sheila it would be exceptional. For a little girl to have

survived life threatening situation, multiple emotional tragedies and be incredibly intelligent and

coherent when relief has finally come is truly a miracle. For this little girl, life was anything but a

walk in the park. To give some background information, Sheila was born into a broken family,

particularly a mother who did not want her, and chose to leave her in the middle of a highway at

age four. Following that tragedy she was left in the care of her alcoholic and abusive father who

constantly reminded Sheila of how worthless she really was. Unfortunately, Sheila could not be

placed in another home due to the fact that her father would be placed in jail if there was another

incident. Therefore, in his alcoholic rage Sheila lived a life of fear and abuse in a Migrant camp

shack which they had called home. It was not until she set another child on fire that she would

find the light at the end of the tunnel. In this case the six year old girl had to hit rock bottom in

order to find salvation.

Entering Torey Hayden’s classroom Sheila was dirty, smelly, and looked too small for her

age. She refused to talk or cooperate with anyone in the class, including Torey. At first glance she

was a child which no one had wanted. The information that Torey knew about her was very

small, and from what she had observed within the first day of class, there was more than meets

the eye. In just one day of class Sheila had caused a huge ruckus in the class, killed the goldfish,

ran away, got trapped in the gym and wet her pants; all without ever shedding a tear. If that was

the first day of class, one could only imagine what was to follow. As time progresses in the book,

both Sheila and Torey have their own personal battles, combined battles, and overall successes.

All of the work and time which they had spent together had changed Sheila’s development.
In terms of gender, this novel has many conflicting issues between genders. First of all

Sheila has a lot of issues with being a little girl. She yearns for femininity and for relationships

with the other girls in the class. Focusing on her feminine characteristics, Sheila, who is

constantly dirty, quickly becomes overly attached to hair barrettes. Not just because they were

her hair things, but other girls, like Susannah Joy noticed her new feminine characteristics.

Furthermore, all she really wanted was a pretty dress to wear with the intension of looking like

other little girls. When speaking of the male gender, Sheila had often had poor experiences with

males, and had little trust in them. She was physically and verbally abused by her father, and

then sexually abused by her uncle. Due to these experiences, Sheila has multiple trust issues with

the opposite sex, and adults in general. Each of these things derives from Sheila’s biological and

social development. She feels as if she needs to be more like a girl due to biological and social

development. All of the other girls in her class have pretty hair, or feminine type clothes, and she

is not one of them. Seeing that she is of school age, she is very self conscience of the way that

she looks towards others. She wants to be more girly, and she knows that she is different than the

boys. Therefore, she strives to be treated that way. As Torey helps her groom herself, and buys

her new clothing her confidence level builds as she becomes more accepted in the classroom.

Sheila is no longer considered the smelly kid in class.

When discussing sexuality, Sheila has significant abuse issues. When her Uncle Jerry

sexually abused her, she did not even realize that what he did was wrong. She understood

physical pain because it is a physical response to what he had done, but she did not

psychologically and emotionally she did not know that what he had done was wrong. Seeing that

she had very few positive experiences, and was not educated in these situations, she had believed

everything that her Uncle Jerry had said. What he did was a terrible thing, but it was worse that
she had no idea that he was wrong. She had gone on with her day thinking that she was wrong

and she did not abide by what he had said. When understanding that what he did hurt her both

physically and emotionally she completely shut off the idea of having a sexual life. After Torey

had explained that sex is something for adults, and is something that two people should do when

they were in love, her only reference to sex was the women who her father had brought home

when he was drunk, and her uncle who molested her. Cognitively, due to her experiences she had

learned the wrong information about sex. She learned vicariously through others poor actions

that these things were okay to do to children, and they are not. No one had modeled positive

“love-like” relationships in front of her. Living in the culture of the migrant camp, having few

role models and abused relationships all added to her issues with sexuality.

While Sheila’s living arrangements led to various issues with others, where she lived,

how she lived and her past all formed her personal culture. Over time every person develops

their own culture of life. While some live in similar cultures due to their income level, race,

religion, or ethnic background, each person has different experiences which add to their cultural

experiences. For Sheila, as a child she had very little of anything. She was thought to be

worthless, mentally retarded, unlovable, and overall a nothing person. Furthermore, she lived in a

shack, in a migrant camp, abandoned by her mother, and abused by her father. Lastly, she lived in

an area of mostly people who did not speak English on one side of the camp, and the other side

was junkies. When the outside population looked in on her life they saw her as trash. Due to the

lack of positive experiences in her culture, she never had any expectations to reach. Many

students they live in home where achievement is praised, she did not have such a place. When

entering the school culture she was at a loss. At first she did not seek praise at all, but rather, she

yearned for attention by her outlandish behavior. Due to her home life she understood that when
she did something that was bad, she received attention. Whether or not the attention was good

did not matter. Overtime Torey had exposed her to a new school culture and her experiences

showed her that she should make an effort to receive praise rather than reprimanding.

Within culture one also develops relationships with others. An important type of

relationship for school aged children is relationships with their peers. Before entering Torey’s

classroom Sheila had a lack of peer relationships. This could be easily seen through her social

development. She did not understand how to be someone’s friend, and the only emotion she had

towards others was revenge. She was unable to let others in and show them any part of herself.

As time went on she had become more comfortable with her peers. Torey had Sheila helping the

other students with their work, thus, pushing them to be closer. By the end of the book the

students were able to show emotion towards Sheila, an example being when she was

hospitalized. Although Sheila was still unable to really cry in front of people she did not fully

trust, she could laugh and let her guard down. The peer relationships which were developed

throughout the novel were the most growth out of all areas of her life. In the end of the book

Sheila could go and talk to strangers, like Chad or Mrs. Ginsberg. The social skills acquired

during this time will take her throughout her life and through all facets of her life.

Seeing that Sheila had to gather her social skills in school, one can assume that she had

little attention in the home. Starting with biological development, Sheila does have two

biological parents, but her mother left and her father does not claim her as his biological child.

Her father is an abusive alcoholic whose only concern is his next bottle of whiskey. He

constantly hit her and reminds her of what a terrible child she was. This feeling added to the lack

of self-confidence and poor self-efficacy. Due to her fathers words she felt unloved and scared to

do anything, knowing that the consequence was abuse. While she was emotionally distraught
from his actions, she was also not physically taken care of. She was dirty, not allowed to clean

herself and was too small for her size. His lack of parenting skills made her an outcast among her

peers seeing that no one wants to be around the smelly kid. When discussing Sheila’s mother, she

chose to leave Sheila on the highway at age four to fend for herself. Other than the obvious

danger that this puts a child in, Sheila was left to feel forgotten and unwanted by the one person

who is supposed to love their child unconditionally. Moreover, not only did her mother leave her

behind, but she took her little brother Jimmy with her. This was yet another way to show Sheila

that she was less loved and less important than others in her parent’s lives.

While one would think that Sheila would dislike her little brother Jimmy, seeing that he

was chosen over her, that is not the case. Sheila loved her brother and made multiple comments

on what a great child he had been. The reference to Jimmy as such a great child would then lead

into her thoughts of being not good enough. She was not chosen by her mother, and he was. This

constant reminder makes Sheila think that she will never be good enough. She has learned

through her parent’s decisions and vicarious actions that she will never be as good as Jimmy. The

constant comparison to “good” Jimmy and “bad” Sheila weighs on every aspect of her


While from all of the information given one could assume that Sheila has nothing going

for her that is not the case. Other than her behavior, Sheila has no reason be in Torey’s class. Her

academic achievement level is far above her class and her age group. Even though she is very

smart, she is unaware of her true abilities. In her past experiences with education she has never

had someone that she could trust, nor has anyone given her a chance to shine academically. Since

her poor behavior and odd language skills stood out from the rest of her character, no one ever

took the time to really look at her other abilities. Once Torey did take that time they had built a
relationship of trust. Torey modeled the behavior that she expected from Sheila and had changed

her mastery learning experiences from unsuccessful to successful. While this did not happen over

night, after months of Sheila seeking approval from Torey, and endless days with Sheila hanging

on to Torey’s belt, she had learned that she was able to succeed, and that she was incredibly

smart. Her achievements are not only because she was good at math or a fluent reader, but her

real achievement was her ability to control her actions and behaviors.

In a matter of a few months Torey Hayden was able to turn a child which was given no

hope into a child who was praised for her work. For those who would come in contact with her

after Torey’s class, there is a chance that they would not be able to tell that she had once set

another child on fire. She entered that room as a scared child who had seen more in her six years

than most will see in a lifetime. She did not have any role models, was constantly being put

down, and was physically, verbally and sexually abused. She had countless trust issues and

emotional problems. For most teachers this child would have been their worst nightmare. Over

time, and the exposure to new experiences Sheila was able to grow in all aspects of her

development; social, biological, and cognitive. While she may not be one hundred percent better

after these experiences, she has a fighting chance at the life she was never given.