Here is a letter I wrote to our school today…
I stopped in at the school office this morning after I trailed behind a little girl named “Gertrude Von Hildenberg*” who’s in first grade to make sure she got to school safely.
It seems I do this at least once a semester for someone. I don’t mind it, truly, but it does bother me that these wee children are left to walk to school alone.
I know where Gertrude Von Hildenberg lives and her brother is on my son’s soccer team and her mom and I are “path friendlies” meaning that’s how I mostly know her. Gertrude Von Hildenberg ‘s brother Hans* was in Mrs. Flapdoodle’s* class with my son last year as well, so there’s that awareness as well but it’s very high level and mostly casual.
So around 8:42-ish this morning as I was walking my way back home, I saw Gertrude Von Hildenberg on her way. Another woman, in her 60s, was walking her dog and I thought Gertrude was with her. She wasn’t. So the woman and I chatted a moment about Gertrude being alone and I decided I would “shadow” her up to the school entrance.
When we got to the foot of the hill, a neighborhood maintenance worker was approaching the trash bin at the bottom of the hill near the first bridge. It all was fine, no weirdness there at all, but the fact remains that this child walked to school ostensibly alone for about five minutes (little legs and the wandering first-grader’s eye and thoughts make for a meandering mosey to school, not a walk).
Gertrude got to the school courtyard and the doors were shut and locked. She paused at the entry, outside the garden courtyard and audibly said, “OH NO, the DOORS are LOCKED. What will I DO?” and she started TO HEAD HOME. I sensed this and I said, “Gertrude Von Hildenberg? You’re Hans’s sister, right?” (I’m about 6′ away from her.) She said, “Yes.” Without blinking an eye, totally trusting me and not questioning anything about my sort of sudden appearance… I said, “Don’t go home, honey. I’ll go ahead and push the button and you can walk right in…” So she followed me.
Your blinds were drawn as were the assistant principal’s (probably from the night cleaning crew) so even if you were in your office, you wouldn’t have been able to see anything. The cafeteria crew was in the café with the people who were doing the eye exams so there were people milling about inside, but they’re all busy and doing their things.
Gertrude went in and headed to her classroom. I talked to the front office staff about the situation and they said they’d chat with you about it. The lunch lady and I exchanged waves on my way out of the school courtyard.
Here’s where I’m going: she was all alone. Her name was sewn on her backpack. She let me lead her somewhere. No one saw me help her.
Crazy, bad stuff happens all over this county all the time to our schoolchildren — mostly older kids, like what’s going on over at a nearby high school. Sadly, most of it is not “isolated” in that known people are hurting the kids, but on the off chance that some random weird person is lurking in the woods outside our school, waiting for a kiddo to be late… I don’t need to finish that >gulp< sentence.
What’s my takeaway?: please remind parents to protect their children. Suggest they not personalize the backpacks and the lunch bags.
Remind them to chat with their children and to impress upon them that no strange adult needs the help from a child EVER and that no known adult needs the help of a child out of view of others.
I’m going to write a blog post about this experience… but I hope you’ll send out a note too.
Take care, Molly
*duh, fake names.
ps – please share / reblog this post if you feel it’s appropriate. this message is so important. all children need advocates.
Update – I just spoke with Frau Von Hildenberg and she explained that this situation was a perfect storm of Herr Von Hildenberg being out of town, the younger liebschöen Von Hildenberg being unwell and that Gertrude left the house accompanied by friends but apparently they separated. Gertrude’s trip to school is less than 1/4 mile all on the same side of the road as the school, so there’s no danger about crossing streets but as you can see from the picture above, it’s densely forested in some parts. The thing is though, she did get separated and she did trust a stranger. Frau Von Hildenberg expressed her surprise at Gertrude’s solitude but wasn’t surprised that her daughter was so trusting. I extended my phone numbers to her in hopes that I can be of assistance in the future.
What’s the takeaway from this?: It does take a village. Get to know your neighbors, ask for help if you’re overwhelmed and really, don’t assume your kiddo’s gonna do what you tell him to, especially when it comes to getting to school.
update re the post i wrote about the lone child on the path to school! the principal sent out a great message today and it’s great to see this stuff start to unfold for the benefit of the kids:
A message from GERTRUDE VON HILDENBERG’S SCHOOL:
We are very proud of our safety record as it relates to students at our school, and because the safety of our students is always a priority we ask that parents join us in keeping all students safe. Please remind students to travel always with a buddy when walking to and from school. Make sure they travel during the times patrols, parents and school employees are posted on duty and on the paths. In the event students are late an adult should escort them to school. Parents are asked to notify the Main Office as well as classroom teacher regarding changes in the way your child needs to travel (i.e. Kiss and Ride student needs to walk home or bus student needs to be picked up at Kiss and Ride). Please review the safety rules with your children routinely to make sure they know exactly what to do in any situation. Make sure your child does not interact with strangers. We appreciate all of those parents who walk along the paths, stand at the bus stops and report potentially unsafe conditions to the school. The partnership we have benefits all students.
we are working on creating student safety assemblies and other types of grass-rootsy activism which is always best when it begins with the children.
thank you to everyone who shared that post.