Aaron didn't intend to tell his classmates that he was homeless. But when he recorded his own story with StoryCorpsU — a project designed to help kids in high-needs schools build stronger relationships with their teachers — he says, it just came out.
"I felt ... like a big load was let off," Aaron explains. (NPR has withheld Aaron's last name, at the request of his foster care agency, to protect his privacy.) "I don't know what made me say it, but I'm like, 'Let me just be honest and just get it out.' "
In his recording, made last year in Chicago, Aaron revealed that he "had to sleep outside, sometimes with nothing to eat. I was ashamed. ... I still am ashamed."
It was only upon hearing Aaron's recording that his teacher, Celeste Davis-Carr, learned that he was living on the streets.
"I was scared, because I felt helpless," Davis-Carr tells Aaron in an interview the two recorded this year. "I didn't know what to do, but at the same time I felt I had an obligation to try my best to help you."
"I didn't really think that I would ever really tell a teacher, but it makes me know that you're special because you care," Aaron says. "You talk to me and make sure that I'm cool.
"Because sometimes kids were bullying me, calling me a freak of nature, throwing chairs, throwing glass and stuff at me," he continues.
In the year since revealing his secret, Aaron says he's doing better. He has more friends and has been living in a foster home since October. "It's good, actually. I feel comfortable. Where I am now — it kind of feels like home."
"Can I tell you one thing that I really admire about you, Aaron?" Davis-Carr asks. "Because I've never told you. Do you know how strong you are? ... You have a strength that, no matter what anyone says about you or they do to you, you don't change who you are as a person. And a lot of people don't have that strength. So I admire that about you."
"Thank you," Aaron replies.
"I want to see you happy," his teacher tells him. "Just your smile is the best moments of you."
"Thank you," Aaron says. "That means a lot to me."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman.