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A friend of mine called me pretty frantic last week. “I can’t get my daughter to go to school. It’s been happening for a couple of weeks, and I need your help.” Her daughter is seven, in the second grade.
You see, I am no expert– but I did teach school for several years, have worked with children for over ten, I have this whole “parenting advice” thing I do here, plus I have a pretty solid relationship with the kid. So, when a friend doesn’t know what to do, they usually give me a call and I help in any way I can.
The situation was this: Mom was a stay at home mom up until Mae* went to kindergarten, and then finances changed at home, so Mom had to get a job. Not only was Mae in school all day long, but she also had to go to after school care, too. Mae has never loved this scenario, but we all know that we do what we can, and these are the lemons this family was dealt. The week before spring break this year (second grade), little Mae was sick. Her mom took off from work, and spent the week home with her. Mom was also off for spring break, so they spent that week together as well.
When Mom took Mae back to school after spring break, Mae refused to go to class. She wouldn’t walk into the building. When Mom picked her up and took her in, Mae sat in the floor refusing to walk down the hall. When Mom tried to leave Mae there, Mae took off after Mom out the front door of the school and down the road. The principal and counselor helped Mom and they got Mae back into the school. When they asked Mae what was wrong, her reply was, “I miss my mom and my teacher is mean.”
This went on for three or four days. Mae refused to go to class, and they started having to bring her work down to the front office. Mom left her at school, both of them totally heartbroken, started getting in touch with counselors to set up an appointment, and did everything she could.
One day, Dad was able to get away from work, and he tried to convince her to go to class as well. When she refused, the Principal and counselor decided in-school-suspension was in order. If she refused to go to class, then she would spend the rest of the day in the Principal’s office.
Clearly, they were stuck and didn’t know what to do. They called Mom again, but told Mom not to come up, because then Mae would get activated again and beg to go to work with Mom, etc.
None of this is rocket science. Her motives were clear, she’s normally a pretty well behaved kid, and it’s a month until school is out. The principal and counselor are phoning it in at this point, and instead of working with the parents to come up with a solution, they’re just riding it out until the end of the year.
So, this is where I come in. Mom asked me if I would go up to the school and talk to Mae. She called the school, okay’d it with the powers-that-be, and they knew I’d be up there in a minute. I sat with Mae, pulled up a coloring book and we talked.
I asked the big questions:
“Are you just not wanting to go to school or is there something you’re afraid of?”
“Nothing I am scared of. I just don’t want to go.”
“What happened that changed your mind about school?”
“I just liked being home with my mom.”
“How can I help you get back to your classroom?”
“We could maybe take a walk?”
And so we did. We walked around the school, we checked out all her old classrooms, talked about what it was like to be in kindergarten and first grade, and how much harder it was to be a second grader. And after she showed me her kinder room and her first grade room, she said, “There’s one more room I want to show you.”
Good. This is exactly what I wanted. On our way to the second grade classroom, the counselor stopped us in the hall. “You know the rest of the school is at assembly now. If you’d gone to class, you would be in there right now” There was about an hour left in the day.
Mae shrugged, pretending it didn’t bother her, but she looked away, and it was obvious it did. We headed down the second grade hallway hand in hand, and walked into the empty classroom. She took a deep breath and looked at me, “Want to see my plant I’m growing?”
“I do. I would love to see that.” We were all the way in the room now, she smiled as she showed me how tall her beanstalk had grown.
I asked her if she’d be willing to try going to class a try. It was the perfect opportunity to get her back into the classroom, because she could head down to assembly, and walk back to the room with her classmates. They’d be in there maybe ten minutes at the most. Just enough for her to remember that the classroom wasn’t a bad place.
She nodded, “Yeah. Let’s get my stuff. Thanks for coming up to talk to me. I think I can make it in my class now.”
We headed to the principal’s office, packed up her bag and went to drop it off in her classroom. I promised to walk her down to assembly, and even offered to pick her up after school so she could hang with my kid.
We made it to the classroom door when the school secretary came running after me. “MOM! MOM! Hey You! LISA’S MOM! HEY!” (Lisa is my daughter, I guess in the six years I’ve spent volunteering at this school she hasn’t bothered to learn my name, but that is another story for a different time.)
“Yes?” I realized she was talking to me.
“She can’t go to class. She’s in in-school-suspension.”
Here’s what I wanted to say: “What? The kid who is scared to go to class that we’ve been trying to get to go to class for the last week wants to go to class and we aren’t letting her go because she’s in in-school-suspension? She’s SEVEN.”
But before I could say it, before I could say anything, Little Mae crumpled into a chair sitting outside her classroom in the hall. The secretary was down a few doors and couldn’t hear, but Mae’s response was loud enough for me, ‘That’s all I had. This was it. That’s all the brave I had today
[clickToTweet tweet=”Is Second Grade Too Young For In School Suspension?” quote=”Little Mae crumpled into a chair and looked up at me, ‘That’s all I had. This was it. That’s all the brave I had today.'”]
I hugged her and asked the secretary for more clarification maybe we weren’t hearing this right, “You don’t want her to finish out the day in her classroom? Where she’s been scared to go all week?”
“Oh, no. She has to finish out her punishment. She has to learn what she’s doing is wrong.”
“K.” (Remember my kid still goes to school here… I am pretty powerless at this point.)
Mae and I walked back to the principal’s office. I stopped by the counselor on the way. Just for a little more clarification. “Mae is ready to go back to class, but I understand she has in-school-suspension. Is that right?”
“Oh, yes. That’s Mae’s punishment for not going to class. She needs to know her choices have consequences.”
*Blink* “Yeah, okay. That makes a lot of sense to me.”
I took her into the office, unpacked her bag, and promised her I would be there when the bell rang in a half an hour so she and my kid could hang out.
When she hopped in my car, the first thing she said was, “I am not going to school tomorrow. I want to see what work with Mommy is like.”
And when Mom took her to school the next day, in her pajamas, because she refused to get dressed. The principal was surprised when Mae didn’t want to go to class. “I understand Ms. Harrington made great progress with her yesterday.”
*I changed the names.