Unexpected Consequence.

This takes a bit of explaining.

Wednesday was a very unusual day. Not a day that I hadn’t to some extent predicted, but unusual for everything predicted coming due at once. The day featured security problems in the Badlands, student achievement problems, and other nonsense, but that stuff isn’t what drove the art for the day.

When I signed onto the online system that I use to run my classes, I had a letter from a student. That letter became the Most Important Thing of the day. Because of the rules attached to teachers, I’m not going to get into a huge amount of detail about the letter. First, we need to backtrack two weeks.

Two weeks ago, in response to my observance that there was a significant number of student on my roster that I had never, or only rarely seen. Obviously, that’s not a good thing. I did a rapid statistical analysis of my own students, setting a lower standard to absence in order to determine potential risk. I selected the sample set of students on my roster who had twenty or more absences for the semester, or almost an entire grading period.

Out of two hundred and ten students on my rosters total, that resulted in a total of seventeen that had missed about four weeks of school. I put them on a list, with their total number of absences in a column next to them, with a header explaining the list. I turned in that list.

The student who wrote me the letter, and submitted it to the assignment system for my class, was on that list. Two weeks ago, I suggested that we probably needed to check and see how those kids were doing. That’s pretty important here.

The letter itself was…not good. It was a cry for help. This young lady had a major trauma occur in her life, and spoke to the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to come into school, and had begun to “self harm.” The choices here were simple, and most important priority: notifications had to be made, parent contact and mental health services needed to be engaged, and the appropriate service referrals made. The girl in her letter really said that she wanted help, and was in over her head emotionally. She also said that she just wanted to pass her classes if she could, and wanted help in doing that. She just wanted some help reclaiming her life.

I wrote back to her through the message system that runs class, thanking her for the letter, and stating that she had the support of family, teachers, and friends. The district was notified, as were mental health services. The parents were made aware of a situation that they didn’t fully grasp. Help started to arrive.

The thing is…help could have arrived about two weeks earlier. Her name was on my intervention list.

We have an entire employee, our PSA counselor, who is solely responsible for managing and improving student attendance. That person is supposed to do home visits, to investigate long term absences, and even pursue truancy with the DA’s office. Teachers are supposed to do what I did…report issues to that office, so that they can be investigated. I went to the trouble of generating a detailed report, of only seventeen names. It strikes me that with two weeks…that’s eighty hours of work, that maybe it could have been followed up.

Maybe it SHOULD have been followed up.

That’s where I’m angry and upset. The math shows that those seventeen students have serious life problems, that are outside the bounds of normal. I set the limits of the list so that they were the highest possible risk category, so as not to waste time. Furthermore…our administration is constantly talking about how important it is to report attendance problems, and improve student attendance. even if the list wasn’t seen as important in the obvious “warning flag” that it was…the school is judged (and is being judged harshly) on attendance statistics.

Rational self interest should have seen my list as a gift, and started action if only to make the school look better with the local district. Student outcomes that are positive (which was my entire motivation) would be a happy side effect of that Suit Behavior.

We didn’t even get Suit Behavior.

It bothers me, because it makes me wonder how many other things have fallen through the cracks. The moment that I brought the letter, the student’s transcript, and contact information into play, the school acted, as did all of the other services that needed to be engaged. That’s fine…as far as it goes. The sad reality is that we could have reached out to her and her family proactively, instead of waiting for her to summon up the courage to cry out for help in a sort of last ditch effort.

The system should do better.

This thing was the start of my Wednesday. I’m not going to say that it was bad, because a charming young lady who needed help is getting it now. That’s good. It’s bad that it went as long as it did without being dealt with, and furthermore, the rest of the day happened.

A lot of that was nonsense. They were things that when compared to the start of the day, just weren’t things that seemed to matter that much at all.

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