I swore to myself I was done with school after getting my MSW. I just couldn’t bear the thought of going back. Of course, now I’m starting to feel like I miss higher education. Whenever I get this feeling, I think of my day-to-day experience with schools.
School visits are a necessary part of social work. If parents don’t come in, or aren’t home for visits, one place you can often track the kids down is at school. With teens, this is a bit tricky, because God knows where they run off to, but it generally works for elementary age kids.
Getting a school worker on the phone is so often a treat. Just the other day, I called to find out if a brother and sister were in so I could come see them. I called the attendance office, where I got no answer, so I transferred to the main office. She transferred me to the attendance office. There was still no answer, so I called back. This was apparently a breach of etiquette, according the the secretary. I mean, I had just called. Granted, my call had been transferred to an empty office, and I had not gotten the information I needed, but still. So she transferred me to the guidance counselor. Who was also not in her office. I gave up and went to the school in person.
The kids weren’t there. Sigh.
Several other times, I’ve called to find out if a child was in school, and if I could visit. I’ve been told yes, only to show up to find out that that the child was marked present, but is on a field trip, or in the middle of a test and can’t be pulled out of class. Do I really need to specify that when I ask if a child is in school and I can come to see them, that I mean that the child is actually in school, and available to be seen? When I make plans with a friend, I don’t say, “Hey, let’s meet at the bar around 8. By that I mean, we will both be at the agreed upon location at the agreed upon time. We’ll actually be there. Physically. We will then spend time together. At the bar. Got it?”
Teenagers are tricky. A lot of them are referred to us due to truancy. So you would think that school visits wouldn’t work. However, even chronically truant kids get random urges to go to school. You know, visit some friends, maybe get a free meal. When you’re gone for so long, the surprised looks and greetings you get from classmates and teachers can make you feel like a returning hero. Some kids who don’t attend class are still in school all day long. Which I have never understood. I knew one girl who went to school, and then spent a majority of the day in the bathroom. A public school bathroom.
Just go to class, kid.
When these teens are in school, the problem is tracking them down. Now, I have met some wonderful staff, most often guidance counselors or school social workers, but also secretaries or principals, who really care about these kids and have a sixth sense for where why might be hiding out. However, I have also met plenty of school staff who look at me like I have just asked them to produce a corporeal patronus (side note: OMG July 15th!) when I ask if they can find a student who cuts class frequently.
I was once told, “Oh, I don’t know the students. I’m the principal.”
Play that sentence back in your head, and ask yourself if you’re ok with it, ma’am. Not to play the “good ol’ days” game, but when I was in high school, way back in 1999, the septuagenarian principal in my public, 4000 student school spent the entire day walking the halls, and knew all of us, at least by face. Or at least he had the decency to pretend to.
Then there’s obtaining school records. We usually start out by faxing over a request and a release of information. When this is inevitably ignored, we call. Often we’re told that the fax number on the DOE website is incorrect, or that the fax machine is broken. One school had no functioning fax machine for a record five months. Keep reaching for the stars!
At other times I have been told, “You have to ask the teacher for the report card.” Um, it’s 11 am. I’m fairly certain she’s teaching right now. You don’t have this in some kind of computer system? I mean, the report card is printed out. I think it came from somewhere. Apparently, no. I’m an idiot for even thinking this.
One mother is desperately trying to get in touch with her 9th grader’s school to find out if he will be attending summer school, and where. (Such a helicopter mom. Why does she need to know every little detail?) See, the kids was in a District 75 school throughout his childhood, which is a school specifically for special education. He was then placed in a regular high school, with no supportive services. You’ll be shocked to hear that he’s failing all of his classes. Mom wants him re-evaluated and given services. She and I call so much that we are both on a first name basis with the school secretary. Barbara is a doll, but I would really appreciate it if the principal could pick up his damn phone.
We’re all busy. But once again, I must bring up the fact that we are all working towards the same goal–helping these kids. It’s the job we all chose.
We can start by checking the fax machine.