“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . but the world may be different . . . because I was important in the life of a child.”

~ Forest E. Whitcraft

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When Schooling Takes Precedence Over Learning

Is schooling really about learning? (Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

Schools are designated as places of learning, but sometimes it seems that other things seem to take priority. Like attendance policies. 

At our local high school, for example, a student with straight A's can be deprived of a place on the Honour Roll if she misses more than two days in any given term. It doesn't matter whether she's done all of her assignments and made up all the work she missed. Being sick for that third day disqualifies her.

How does that make sense?

Pennsylvania dad Mike Rossi has learned that attendance policies make little sense in his school district too. Last week he received a warning letter from the school principal, telling him that the three days his kids missed school to accompany him for a trip to run in the Boston Marathon, were unexcused absences. The letter implied that if the children missed too much school, the family would be investigated for truancy.

This despite the fact that his children had missed only one or two additional days, in the entire school year. And despite Rossi having told teachers all year that if he qualified for the marathon, he intended to take the kids along to Boston. The school had all year to warn Rossi about the policy that counts family trips as unexcused absences - and for that matter, all year to negotiate some way for the children to be evaluated in their learning experience - but not a word was said. The school didn't even raise the alarm when he emailed before the family left on their trip.

Am I the only one who wonders where the school's priorities are? It seems to me that this principal is more interested in covering her own hind quarters or in catching good parents breaking stupid rules, than in anything that truly impacts on the welfare or the education of these two little girls.

Rossi's reply to the principal mentions a long list of educational activities the children took part in while in Boston. Any one of these would make the perfect subject for an essay or research paper, which could stand as proof that the children learned something on their trip. Would it be so hard for the teachers to grade an essay, in order for the absence to be counted as excused? Were the educators even approached about the possibility?

I understand that a school district would be overwhelmed if every family decided to take a trip in the middle of the school year. It would disrupt learning in the classroom, and having to grade a constant stream of projects would place an undue burden on teachers.

That being said, it's not often that a parent qualifies for an event like the Boston Marathon. And obviously, the family can't just reschedule the trip to avoid conflicts with the school calendar. Mr. Rossi had given the school more than fair warning about the absence, and considering the kids' prior attendance record it should have been a simple matter to excuse such a short absence.

This truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and one that afforded these young scholars a valuable learning experience. Would it have hurt the school to get on board, and take advantage of the opportunity to turn a family vacation into a learning experience for the whole school?

The principal has requested a meeting with the family, and we can only hope she's come around since this tale of rigidity and intolerance has gone viral. Perhaps she'll realize the whole school can benefit from an inspirational talk delivered by someone who has run the marathon. Or she might see that the Rossi kids could create educational displays or presentations for their classmates. Or maybe she could simply offer to have the kids submit an essay for credit, this one time.

Parents of school-aged children, take note! If you are planning a family trip that might conflict with school, take the time to look into the school's policies. And be sure to negotiate with the school officials, well in advance of your departure date. Document all your exchanges, including any outlines of educational activities planned and any proposals for the kids to complete assigned or additional work while away.

It's sad to say, but you can't just notify the school and trust that everything is OK because nobody has said otherwise. These days, too many school officials prefer to take action against parents after an infraction is committed. It must seem easier than working with parents beforehand, in the best interests of the child.

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