I have a daughter in college and a son in high school. Having kids in school involves a lot of paperwork between home and class. There are always permission slips and waivers to sign, school lunch bills to review and pay, doctors’ notes to submit to the office, and of course there are grade checks.
When I became proficient with a cell phone a few years back, my contact phone numbers always included the schools my kids were attending. Likewise, I have become a contact in the high school’s phone tree of parents and guardians. But I was still a little surprised when school began in August and I began getting regular calls from the contact in my phone named “GCHS.”
When I was a kid I lived in fear of getting called into the principal’s office. I was pretty straight-laced and rarely broke the rules, but there were a couple of times I got into trouble with the principal. The first was when I was about 7 years old and attending the old Helen M. Knight Elementary School.
The playground was on the north side of the buildings, and it was there I became good at hopscotch and tether ball. But one rare day there was snow on the ground, and kids started making little slides off of a nearby hill. This snow was a real treat for recess, and I watched kids lining up in long queues to wait their turn to slide down the newly built raceways. Suddenly, I noticed there was no line. So I ran to the top of the little hill and gleefully slid down, only to find a grim-faced teacher who sternly told me that a stop had been called to that fun – didn’t I know – and how dare I defy her order to stop the sledding. She marched me to the principal’s office at once.
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I dutifully waited for my visit with Mr. Olearain. After a few minutes of glumly sitting in a little chair next to the secretary’s desk I was invited into the principal’s office, where I poured out my story of innocence and remorse. In hindsight, I think Mr. O probably choked back a snicker at my emotional condition. He sent me back to class, where I had to suffer the humility of coming in late when everyone knew the reason.
Another time, many years later, I got into trouble because I wore flip-flops on the last day of school. Decades ago we weren’t allowed to wear shorts or sandals to class, even when it was very hot, but I thought I would defy authority and do it anyway. Vice Principal Leonard took one look at me (and I was the vice president of the student body) and sent me home! Boy was my momma surprised to find that I had been expelled until appropriate footwear could be donned. That time I snickered at the scenario.
But back to the new phone contact system at GCHS. I get more calls from that outfit than I do from my best girlfriends, and I get updates on all sorts of issues that go like this: “Hello, this is Dr. Stephen Hren. I am calling to inform you of a special assembly at Grand County High School today. Please invite your child to share what he or she learned at the assembly.” Or how about this one, always from the friendly but firm automated female voice: “This is to inform you that your son [insert name] was tardy today,” or even worse “... that your son was absent without an excuse.”
I get notifications from GCHS about Saturday School, parent/teacher conferences and unexpected dismissals, such as when pipes broke last winter and the high school had to close for the day. I like this phone tree system, even when it’s not great news. It’s important for parents to be in contact with the schools.
Early Monday morning when I turned on my cell phone, I had a message from GCHS alerting me, and I assume hundreds more, about three local children who were missing. Within a few hours I got another call, and an email, informing me that the youths had been located. That was a relief. I have to believe that the new phoning system is partially at credit for resolving what could have been a crisis.
When my phone rings and the call’s from “GCHS,” I always wonder if I’m in trouble with the principal. But more often than not, I’m just being kept informed.