Parker High School's Autumn Breuer is a profile in courage, resilience

 

Anthony Wahl

JANESVILLE—Ever try to move a mattress by yourself?

There's no easy way to do it. It's unwieldy. It doesn't go around corners well.

Trauma is like an invisible mattress you carry all the time. You get used to the weight, but it's never easy to manage.

And if you want a rest, you've got to find a place to put it so it doesn't hurt you or somebody else.

Enter Autumn Breuer, 18, master mover.

Parker High School teachers and staff picked her as a standout senior. She's kind, thoughtful and a hard worker—a description that makes her sound like a teacher's pet rather than a real person.

But her life has been punctuated by trauma. She doesn't want to share the details, but it has been significant enough to leave her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

What stands out about her is her resilience, her teachers said.

Breuer attends the “school within a school” at Parker. It's sometimes called the block program. Classes are smaller, and students keep some of the same teachers throughout their four years of high school.

“I don't think I would have been able to graduate if I didn't have the block program,” Breuer said.

Having the same teachers meant she was able to build trusting relationships with them.

Breuer mentioned two teachers who helped her thrive: Camilla Owen from Franklin Middle School and Karen Hill, instructional manager of the school within a school.

Owen, who has retired, remembered Breuer.

“She was so positive,” Owen said. “She really was strong enough to power through.”

Where did that resilience come from?

It seemed to be a part of who Breuer was, an innate gift, Owen said.

Hill described Breuer as “a hard worker who never complained about a thing.”

The words “positive person” and “resilient” came up again.

Breuer is reserved, almost shy, but she has been willing to take on leadership roles, Hill said.

Last year she signed up for Link Crew, which connects juniors and seniors with freshmen and helps them acclimate to high school.

“Miss Hill was one of the Link Crew coordinators and kept on saying to me, 'Oh, you should go for it,'” Breuer said. “She always knew that I could do it.”

Link Crew students have partners, and last year Breuer let her partner do most of the talking. This year her partner wasn't around as much, and she had to take on the leadership role.

“When you're in a classroom with, like, 20 kids, and they're all staring at you, you have to face your fears and get over them,” Breuer said.

Link Crew helped her help other kids who are a little like her—quiet, reserved and not typical "joiners."

“One of my best memories from last year was on the last day. We were playing a game, and there was a boy there who never talked and never participated,” Breuer said. “There was a tiebreaker, and this kid shouted out the answer.”

Reaching those kinds of kids is one of the reasons Hill wanted to see Breuer on Link Crew. Not many kids know about her past.

“There's the perception that she has it all together,” Hill said.

In many ways, she does. Breuer plans to attend UW-Whitewater next year and major in business management. And she's known as kind and thoughtful—but we don't need to go back to those adjectives.

What advice would she give other kids who have suffered trauma?

“Get a good set of friends and a good set of teachers that you can go back to,” Breuer said. “Find teachers that are helping others because you know they'll help you, too.”

Words of wisdom from the master mover.

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