This was previously posted ok BlogHer as "Never Stop Trying To Change The World
Last night I attended Open House at Punkgirl's school. She had reminded me at least four times to visit room 205, the classroom where she helps out the Special Needs program. She has been working with the program since last year, when another child had introduced her to it, and from the first moment it has been her niche.
She taught herself sign language over the summer, making sure that she would be able to communicate with all of the children this year. She was thrilled when a child who never remembers names remembered hers. And she has as a screensaver a picture of her with the kids in the program, captioned "My Second Family."
So imagine my horror last night, when the Assistant Principal told me they were ending the program that allowed the students to help out in the Special Needs program. His reason seemed plausible enough, that they had four teachers and only a handful of students, so they didn't need the helpers. But it didn't ring true, in light of the fact that another child had been harassing my child just last week, and that both she and Punkgirl help out in the SN program. Never mind that the other girl had given Punkgirl a nasty note last year that threatened "If you show your lesbian ass in there again I will out you." PG handled that by outing herself, and continuing her assistance in the program.
Never mind that the teachers had told her that they were 100 percent supportive of her, and that she was their favorite helper.
Never mind that they told her that the program was a "safe space" for her.
Never mind that she is one step away from depression, and that one step is this program.
This morning I called the school to discuss this with them, and to give the guidance counselor a heads up, and I got the Asst. Principal. Without getting rude, there is a reason he is the Assistant. While I tried to communicate the importance of the program to my daughter, she was busy calling me on the other line. She was in tears.
When I spoke to her, I found out that the teacher had told her that because of the "problems" between her and the other child, they weren't going to be allowed to attend any more.
I exploded. I was enraged. I am ok with doing what is best for a program. I would even be ok--infuriated, but ok--if the Assistant Principal had told me the night before that there were just too many issues, or if it was the only way to keep the girls away from each other. But he had not said that, so I had had no chance to prepare my child, and to let her know that SHE was not the problem. Because she wasn't.
Coffeeguy insisted on coming with me to the school, and I will forever be grateful. My words were jumbled into a maelstrom inside my head, but his were not. In concise terminology he conveyed disapproval, discontent, and disdain to the Principal and AP, that they had not only poorly communicated, poorly executed, and poorly managed this situation, but that they had done right by none of the children. As one administrator started to say that they had to do right by the kids in the special needs program, he countered that---by yanking the volunteers out he was disrupting their schedule, and confusing them--"where are my friends that came to visit me every day?" When they tried to say the school system "was not so poor that they needed students to work with the children in the special needs program", I countered with "But it's clearly so poor that it can no longer offer volunteer opportunities that allow the children to feel as if they are helping their community? Thus keeping them from spending that time getting into trouble?" (This was my one, pointed, coherent addition to the argument.) Coffeeguy ran that meeting like a board meeting, and he was the CEO. We agreed that the best interests of the program have to come first, but that instead of handling it properly it was basically a giant clusterfuck. The only credit I can give is that the Principal did offer to speak to Punkgirl about safe spaces in the school. He plans to address the communication issues, and the implementation of other programs to allow the children to volunteer.
So now, instead of waiting for her to come home and tell me what a great day she had with the kids in the program, she came home and cried in my arms. My brave 12 year old, who never cries, and who has had to cry far too many times in Middle School.
Coffeeguy had told the Principal not to be surprised to get a strongly worded response from Punkgirl in a letter about the removal of the program. She may not like the decision, but she'll agree to it--even if she'll also never stop trying to change it. She is doing that as I write, with the admonishment to be respectful, if succinct. She is unhappy, she is devastated, she is sick about it. But she'll never stop trying to change the world.