Monday, October 18, 2010

Keoneula Confidential

What goes on at school stays at school. I only recently truly understood why communication is such a problem at my kids' school. Apparently any break in confidentiality is such a liability, it is so highly regulated that no one even communicates out of fear. That sounds like a foundation for a healthy learning environment.

Last week I finally was able to attend a volunteer orientation so that I can volunteer at my kids' school. I am all for orientations, screenings, and regulation of appropriate behavior where my kids are involved. I know that although I mean no harm and have not only my kids' best interest at heart, but their classmates as well- not all parents are as dedicated or as moral. I am also not so naive to believe that we live in a world where confidentiality agreements don't exist or aren't necessary. Yet I have learned that the venues they exist in usually involve politicians, lawyers and celebrities- all of which usually have something they are trying to hide. Hence the innate need for confidentiality.  Do I think gossip should be allowed- no it's harmful. But I do believe in accountability. There can be no accountablilty without retribution or responsibility. One of my favorite quotes is in reference to integrity- doing the right thing even when no one is looking. That is a main tenet in my life. Another is a sister belief- Doing things well because you should- not because you want awards or recognition.

I understand that gossip and talk about a student's behavior in class can lead to embarrassment. But it begs the question- why would the student or parent be embarrassed if the behavior was appropriate to the learning environment? The volunteer handbook goes so far as to discourage any discussion of any events that occur, even if they are "cute" because that could embarrass the parents. Even if a parent asks specifically- employ the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Also refrain from asking anyone but the appropriate parties about your child's behavior. Well accountability just went out the window. And don't fool yourself into thinking the kids don't know this. Just like lil johnny knows if mom says no, go ask dad- it's filed under the same principle as kids misbehaving as soon as the phone rings.

I can tell you I was utterly surprised to find out that one day in school, Lily hit not 1, not 2 but 3 children. In my day- it was not tolerated. At all- except but the nuns who were the only ones allowed to do the hitting and even that was being undermined as I went through school. Of course I was embarrassed- but mostly I was angry. I am glad she has a capable, experienced teacher who doesn't need to call the principal or parent in for every disciplinary problem. But I am disappointed at the lack of communication unless initiated by me and then only in a CYA fashion. I am proactive- I asked about her behavior because I know she has been acting out at home. And although her meds make her aggressive and her dad being gone are reasons, they are not excuses- rather they are reasons for me to pay closer attention- which I did. She needs to be disciplined at home as well as at school- there needs to be a partnership. School is not an island- it is a stepping block for the world. Newsflash- you don't get a paycheck for doing nothing, you are accountable for your behavior, and if you don't work hard- there will be no award or certificate just for participating.

It reminded me of a day 5 and a half years ago, finding out through another mom that my son had been bullied at school. No one knew names, and if they did they couldn't tell me because of confidentiality. When we moved here, I put him in the public school closest to our neighborhood. These were our neighbors. Military moms warned against the school. Locals at my husband's work commented they wouldn't even send their kids "there". But I had faith. Faith that was crushed when one night I was checking my son's hygiene and found purple bruises all down his back. He refused to say a thing. I marched him into school early the next morning and told his teacher. She said she would look into it but knew nothing about it. That didn't make me feel better. What drove me insane was finding out the principal's attitude was "kids need to learn how to solve problems". That afternoon, one of Phillip's friends was playing over at our house after school. I asked him if he knew how Phillip's back got bruised. The child blanched. Blanched. Had no idea what that meant until I saw it. He didn't want to look at me. He stared at his feet. I reassured him he wasn't in trouble, I just wanted to know. All I got was "they said they'd kill us if we told" and they were in 4th grade maybe 5th. I was outraged. I marched right in to his teacher the next day (and had I had more confidence or experience I would have marched right into the principal's office) and demanded to know what had been done. Well, they took Phillip and his friend around to all the classes to see if they could identify the offenders. Ironically enough they didn't seem to recognize them. Maybe they would have if they had any faith in the adults there, maybe they would have if they had not already learned they were outsiders and would always be treated as such. Maybe if things had just stayed at school like they were supposed to - I would have a severely battered child contemplating acts of violence of his own just to make it stop. Instead I pulled him from school and enrolled him in a school 15 minutes further down the road that's motto was safety safety safety. I never had to sign any confidentiality form and was always encouraged to be on campus to help out or just have lunch with my kids.  The only thing I didn't like about the school was the drive. 

When the new school in our neighborhood opened, I hoped for a similar experience. It was- similar to Phillip's first year. Fortunately he was older and more confident and didn't have to deal with bullying. But the school was the same- parents were not only not encouraged- but discouraged from being on campus. I found out from my kids that since there was no playground equipment or shade- kids ran around and pushed each other for recess and there had been a rash of injuries. Parents asked to help monitor recess. They were told no. It was a liability. The explanantion was that some parents had drug problems and therefore it was easier just to shoo parents away. One bad apple. You could let it ruin the bunch or you could toss it out of the bushel and let the others enjoy the harvest. I and a few other parents have worked hard in the past 2 years to try and change things for the better. We have had some success and a few setbacks. Often I believe the administration looks at us as a nuisance- knowing most are military wives- they are biding their time until another big PCS. But there is no PCS in my future and their "Old school" is full. By being on campus and offering to volunteer- I also found there is a contingent of moms who faithfully volunteer their time behind the scenes.  I believe parent involvement is the single most important indicator of educational success- especially in public schools that lack funds for basic necessities. Even private institutions require a chunk of parents' time as part of their contractual obligations.

On the other hand- I am so tired of hearing parents say "I had no idea it was going on" . Now I understand. How can they be accountable for their children's behavior if they are not informed of what is going on? Sure you will run across the odd (or not so odd) parent these days who won't do anything or expects the school to deal with it and hold the school responsible for teaching morality (as long as it doesn't involve God, or prayer, of course) appropriate behavior, or just excuse morality and behavior and still try to give them an education. Education is not given, it's earned. I don't envy teachers and the land mines they deal with daily. Even with the best administrators- their jobs are some of the toughest in the nation. We have generally lucked out with teachers- which helps me overlook some of the administrative shortcomings. When Lily was going through treatment- both kids' teachers were very supportive and often had the class make Get Well Cards and Posters for her hospital rooms. I appreciate their kind gestures even more know knowing they were risking censure for their blatant violation of confidentiality. I mean it is completely unacceptable to talk about a child's personal life in school. right.? I mean (god) forbid anyone know of a child's hardship so that they might offer help or kind words, or a card. It would be entirely unacceptable for children to see a ray of light through the darkness. Come to think of it- I have NO idea why bullying is a problem in schools and why kids just seem to be getting worse behaviorally. It's got to be the red dye.

So I am not yet sure how I will handle this new dilemma. I know how I want to, but sometimes you catch more flies with honey, right? I know I spend more time asking more specific questions of my kids. I am not afraid to call the school and ask questions. I let them know when I think there is a better way or if something is wrong. I also let them know when I see good.  I try to show my face around school and help out whenever humanly possible. I generally share my opinion and as long as I haven't been volunteering lately- it's technically legal.  All I know is that when people are held accountable for their actions- their actions are more accountable for good. By hiding, the good, the bad, the ugly- a lot of good is being missed out on.

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