Safety: Importance of Following Rules

Originally, today, I was going to write about my final numbers for monarch tagging this year. But, in doing a quick search I found that I had already written about that. It was just on my mind because I submitted my tagging information and mailed my unused tags 5/50 back to Monarch Watch this morning. I cannot wait until spring to find out if any of the 45 Monarchs I raised and tagged made it all the way to Mexico as the result of their migration.  Last year I had two recovered tags in Mexico as a result of 25 Monarchs being tagged. I’m hoping my increased efforts this year will pay off. The only new news I have about my monarch conservation efforts is that I’ve already by solicited by another neighboring community to be added to their schedule to give a talk on monarchs next October! Word is getting out; I am so grateful for that!

Anyway, since I already gave you the “lowdown” on the success of the monarch season here in the midwest, I need to come up with something else to write about. Unfortunately, an experience last night is the first thing that comes to mind.

November Garden Club

I had the November meeting of the garden club I run at a local elementary school yesterday afternoon. The club has grown this year, from five members last year to 23 members this year! It made me extremely happy that there was so much growth in membership. But, with growth in numbers also comes growth in potential problems.

One of the twenty students that came to club last night was not picked up at dismissal. This has occasionally happened in the past at another school where I ran garden club for over 14 years. It happened with another student earlier this year at our first meeting, roughly eight weeks ago, as well.

Part of the reason this might be happening is that for many of these students it’s their first experience staying after school for any reason. A large portion of the group is young. All of the students need to be in 2nd – 5th grade to even belong to the group. Most of the students this year are in second grade.

Following the Rules

When club ends, I have procedures that need to be followed. This procedures or rules are communicated to the group at the first meeting of the school year. They are given a written copy of the “rules” to take home.  Most of the “rules” involve the same behaviors that are valued in each of the school systems I’ve been associated with for holding the garden club groups. They are all based on responsibility (clean up after yourself), respect (listen when someone else is talking) and safety.  Each month, parents receive both a hard copy reminder of club dates, complete with reiteration of the dismissal time and procedure. An email and phone message reminder containing the same information is sent to the home of each student member the day before our meetings. There is clear and regular communication sent to families in several ways. The time of our meeting does not change. Dismissal is always at the same time each month.

Although I’d like respect to be held in the highest regard, and I do try to reinforce this valued behavior with reminders, redirection, and role-modeling, it is safety that really comes first when holding a student group such as this.

When a student, especially a young student, is not picked up, the situation becomes very close to being unsafe,  immediately!  It is not uncommon for the very young students to become anxious at the start, or very end, of club about whether their grown up knows that: 1) they are at club to begin with, or 2) they will be picked up from club to go home. There are many pieces in place to ensure their safety and allay their anxiety, as listed above. On occasion, I’ve allowed or assisted students to call home to ensure their family knows of their location and/or will be there to pick them up.

But, last night got complicated. Nineteen students were picked up or escorted to after the school child care group held concurrently in the building. One student was left. We decided to go outside the building to check if their grown up was waiting out in the parking lot.   During this time, I’m thinking to myself what I’ve communicated to families about pick up. Parents are asked to park and come into the building to pick up their child when club dismisses. There are a couple of purposes to this request. One reason  is for student safety. When the group is larger, it is important I know where the students go and who they go with at the end of club.  Dismissing garden club has always been like dismissing a classroom for me. I view myself as their teacher and feel responsible for them when they are with me, and until they are in the capable hands of another adult.  The more students there are, the more important it is for this dismissal procedure to be followed. It also allows me to get to know parents/guardians of my garden club students as they arrive to get their student. In essence, I’m taking an opportunity to match an adult’s face and name with the face and name of my students.  Again, it is for the students’ safety that I do this.

Outside, we were met with darkness and a near empty parking lot. As we re-entered the building, I asked the student if she knew her phone number. The response was “no.”  We got back to the classroom where I hold the group and checked her permission slip. (I carry these with me to every meeting.)  When I looked there, I found there was no phone number listed for this student’s adult.  We were now about 30 minutes past club dismissal time.

Having profound disappointment in myself (for not having a contact number) and in the situation itself, I knew I had to find some way to resolve our dilemma.  I called the principal on her cell phone but was only able to leave a message, asking for her help. Next, a staff member that runs the after school child care offered to check the teacher’s room for this student’s emergency contact information. While she went to get that, the student’s ride home arrived! It was 40 minutes after club had ended!

Although everything got resolved safely, I went home dismayed. I was mad at myself for realizing I did not have the information I needed to provide a safe transition for this student from school to home.  I had communicated. But, I had failed to thoroughly check my permission slips. I did that this morning. As luck would have it, this student was the ONLY student I did not have complete contact information for.

Knowing I would never leave a student until a situation  such as this was safely resolved gives me some comfort. However, it also makes me sad that a second grader might be in peril because the adults in her life did not follow the rules. They don’t know me. They didn’t know I would stay with her until she was picked up. What were they thinking when no phone number was provided for club membership? What was I thinking in not making sure I had this number?

I am a rule follower. It is for the safety of the students.

I wish others would think about rules this way as well.



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