Parents, Protect Your Children and My Letter to the School.

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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).

This is the path to school… about 2/3 of the way there and where I encountered Gertrude. That child is not Gertrude. It is Hans. No… it’s not. This pic is about seven years old, but nothing has changed.

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

=-=-=

Thank you.

*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.

10/24/12 UPDATE:

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.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

22 responses »

  1. I don’t even let my daughter go in our yard by herself. Yes, she is only two, but still. I can’t imagine sending a first grader out like that. Don’t people read the newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV? Bad things happen all the time. We all have to do what we can to prevent it…especially for our own children!

    • Thanks, LC. Yes, especially for the children. I’m not advocating a fear fest, but rather just embracing and re-tooling the advice I gave about adults never needing a child’s help.

      The school’s reply, that they have info for the newsletter next month, was sort of dismaying albeit not surprising.

      That’s why I was a PTA president: communication is CRITICAL.

      • the principal just wrote back after i stressed the recent stories and the fact that there are registered sex offenders near the school that she’ll work with the PTA to come out with a message for parents soon. 🙂 that makes me feel better.

  2. It will be interesting to see what the school says or does about it. I share the exact same concerns and see kids walking alone all the time. Maybe you should give the letter to Gertrude’s mom! Nice of you to care and speak out.

    • The school said they have information planned to go out in November. That is expecting a lot out of luck… What’s the harm in sending out a note? Just a reminder…? I graciously reminded te principal of erring on the side of caution just to keep the communication lines open.

    • the principal just wrote back after i stressed the recent stories and the fact that there are registered sex offenders near the school that she’ll work with the PTA to come out with a message for parents soon. that makes me feel better. 🙂 pls spread the word, sus. it’s important. thanks, m xo

    • Thanks, Tammy. I see this happen all the time. People on my personal FB wall are saying the same thing. I don’t like what’s become of he world, but being stronger parents is a requirement, not an option. Some things we can’t prevent, but reaching out to another parent, asking for help, is always a possibility around here. I am going to call the mom shortly, as soon as the after school backpack dump calms down around here….

  3. I see kids out walking or waiting for the bus all the time alone–very young ones. I cringe. I can’t understand how a parent could be comfortable – its part of the job-see your child safely on the bus or in the door. Most schools have early entry for parents who need to leave for work or a group to walk/wait with.

  4. That is an awesome response to what you did and said. the fact that the school took that seriously is good on them. I don’t like the idea of a child that young walking to school on their own

    • Thanks, Alastair! I am thrilled they’re on this like white on rice. (Or brown on rice as my rice affection may be.) It’s so easy to do and so vitally important to the community. I’m trying to come up with ways to have the kids understand the nature of this stuff without terrifying them – maybe use our school mascot (that I bought and then used to wear when I was a PTA officer) and “McGruff” the crime dog in a high-level but impactful student assembly… bringing in a neutral unwarty, creepy and un-sinister adult to play the stranger and act out scenarios that the mascot would think are OK and then having McGruff say, “NO. GET (ANOTHER) ADULT….” to the kids… I’m working on it.

      That little girl – so trusting and sweet. I was a bit preoccupied for a few days on the matter, to say the least.

      I’m on your blog at the moment — WONDERFUL pics! what a great eye you have!

      thanks again for commenting and reading. -m

      • That pathway looks like a … well .. trouble for unwary kids. Having someone to keep an eye out is great. Like the idea of the mascot 🙂 It’s something the kids can relate to.

        Thank you for the blog comment 🙂

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