This morning, I was riding my bike to work, and was about 3/4 of the way there when a young man flagged me down. He was also riding a bike, a single-speed. He was African, and appeared very young, very tired, and very distraught. In broken English, he begged for my help, and thrust a piece of paper into my hand. The paper had a list of classes that he was to attend; however, the address or name of the school was nowhere to be found. Likewise, there was no contact number- just the names of the teachers, the session dates, and the classes. Guess what classes they were? English. Beginning English. Not English 101, beginning English. All of them. With said classes having started back on the 10th of this month. (His name and address, however, were on it- we'll call him M., for short.) Oh boy. I couldn't just leave the poor kid there, so I told him to follow me, we'll get to my computer and a phone, and we'll sort this out. Why didn't they give him a map, or the name of the school? Little did I know....
We got to the Tractor Shop, and I proceeded to try to track down where, exactly, M. needed to go. I couldn't find SQUAT. I finally looked up the phone number for the Superintendent of Schools- I was out of options (and I'm a pretty damned good researcher!). Got a secretary who helped me, sort of- she was at least able to help me track down which of the many Boise schools he was supposed to go to, but explained that she couldn't actually call them until after 8 AM to confirm that he was supposed to be there. Fine. OK. It's a start.
I got the school's address from the secretary. I immediately tried to get a map up for M., so that he could find the place. The address wouldn't come up. Apparently, the school in question must be pretty new; MapQuest and Yahoo both failed on me. In frustration, my boss (who, BTW, is one of the best people I know) scribbled out a hand-drawn map, and we sent M. on his way. By now, it was about 8:05, and work had begun. About 3 minutes later, I spoke with the secretary at the school again. She'd talked to the personnel at the summer language school. According to her, he had been enrolled there; however, he wasn't now. I gathered that this was due to his not having shown up for his first session, starting the 10th of this month. Er, yeah, well here's the problem: I'd seen on that page that M. was clutching that the letter he'd received hadn't even been printed off until June 11. Whether the letter came to M. by mail (and I'm guessing it was) or not, the fact remains, the kid didn't even get the letter until AFTER his first round of classes had started. If it was sent by post, well, big surprise that he was a little late getting there! M., armed with the hand-drawn map, had already left. He was really trying, you know?
I got another shock when talking to the Big Guy this morning, on my break- I'd remembered M.'s address from the letter, and I casually mentioned it. The Big Guy said, in shocked tones, "Do you realize how far that kid rode before he found you?" Well, no. Hadn't thought to look that part up... "That address is down by the Boise Depot! He lives all the way down THERE. <short string of expletives redacted> You say he was on a single-speed bike? Jeez-criminiddly, Trigger! That's a ways to go!"
Alrighty, so I want to paint you a picture, and think of your child in M.'s place, OK? Gut-churning fun for everyone! Here goes!
M. was supposed to enter school, in order to learn English. He does not, currently, speak English. Not much, anyway. He was sent a letter, telling him to attend English classes, written in English. It was printed AFTER the starting date for his classes, and so was obviously received after the term began. The letter did not contain the name of the school, the address of the school, nor a contact phone number to find out either of the above, anywhere on it. It also omitted what time of day the classes were to begin. Or even what the classroom numbers were, should M. have (by some miracle) even found the school in the first place. So M., miles from home, in unfamiliar territory, with only a bicycle and a piece of paper with no useful information on it, was reduced to asking a total stranger where to go. Nice, yeah?
So did you put your kid in M.'s place, in your mind? Got an ulcer yet? When I picture Thing One or Thing Two in this position, it chills me to the bone. I've got to wonder- where did this all fall apart? How on earth did this happen, and why? I will be sending an inquiry to the director of the summer school program, and praying that there's not too many more kids who are faced with this situation. I mean, really- how many non-English-speaking kids are even now wandering around the streets of Boise, trying to figure out where they're supposed to be?