Gridlock

When Monique D'Anjou is regularly absent from school, both she and her teachers struggle to deal with missing work, grades, and attendance issues.

Monique’s grades drop after she misses school to care for her ill grandmother.

Monique does her best to keep up with assignments from home.

I love my Grams, I do. She’s the one who took care of me and my two little sisters when we were babies, back when Mom was still in nursing school and Dad was driving a cab at night, working at the power company during the day. She’s always spoiled us, always been at the center of everything.

But now she’s sick, and it’s my turn to take care of her. Dad’s still with the power company, but he maxed out his leave time a few weeks ago. Mom’s working twelve hour shifts at the hospital so she only has to go in three days a week, but that still means she’s not home Mondays and Tuesdays, and Grams can’t be alone. She needs help with everything, and she gets scared when nobody’s here, like what if the oxygen doesn’t work. So I gotta be here. It can be pretty hard, but I don’t mind. I mean, she was always there for me.

The problem is school.


Watch Monique as she explains how difficult it is to keep up at school. (dialup OR broadband)

Then I got my report card. Like I said, I do pretty well. But not this time. And in the back of my head I can hear this voice, “Colleges look at your junior year grades the most.” I don’t know who said that, some counselor or something, but I’m thinking, if they look at this year, I’ll be lucky to get into community college.

Click here to see Monique’s report card.

After Monique’s father shows up at school demanding information about his daughter’s progress, Assistant Principal Peters attempts to gather information.

Jacob Peters spends his morning dealing with problems stemming from Monique’s absenteeism.

6:30 AM. I’m in early to work on my test data analysis report, due to Dr. Owens, our principal, by noon. She needs to review it for tonight’s Board meeting, and I need to get it polished into final form before students arrive or else I’ll never finish it on time. I turn on the computer, decide NOT to check email (too distracting), and don’t even look at the papers in my box. I have to focus on this report.

The admin offices are all along the front of the school, and mine is the only light on in the whole building. The security guards don’t get here till 7, so you can imagine I nearly jump out of my skin when I hear the pounding on the main doors. My heart is racing and I take a few breaths before I crack the blinds to see who is so desperate to get to school this morning.

It takes me a minute to place him—he’s a big burly guy, kind of stands out—and then I remember: His daughter’s a starter on the girls’ basketball team, and I see him at games on Friday nights. Mr. D’Anjou.

I unlock the door, and before he even enters, he’s off. “Listen, Mr. Peters. You know my mother’s been sick and Monique’s been taking care of her.”

I didn’t know that, and I’m not sure where he’s going, but he keeps talking as we walk to my office. “Monique’s a good kid, you know that, but I get this report card,” he waves a form at me, “and I hit the roof.” I gather Monique’s grades weren’t so good. “She’s got D’s! D’s! And she tells me she calls the school and tries to get assignments, but the school won’t give them to her unless I call. And how am I supposed to do that?” He glares at me.

I feel pretty safe with my answer. “Well, you call the front office and ask for a missing assignments request, and then—“

“I CAN’T call,” he says. “I work 7 to 4, no personal calls allowed, and the school shuts down by the time I get home. How’m I supposed to call?”

“Well, that IS a problem,” I say, feeling about as weak as that response.

“You bet it is! Monique wants to go to college, and she tells me she’s doing everything she can. But she’s missed time, and she’s gonna miss time until my mother gets better or—” he stops abruptly.

I feel bad for him. Monique, too. My dad’s in a nursing home, and visits to him are unutterably depressing.

“How much time has she missed?” I ask, reviewing attendance requirements in my head and wondering how much flexibility we have with the regulations.

“It says here,” he looks at the report card. “Five days. But some days I know she comes in the morning, just to catch up, and then she leaves early. So I don’t know what that means.”

To tell the truth, neither do I. I’d have to check with the attendance office and Monique’s teachers. Individually. I sigh as the uninterrupted work time I’d envisioned fades away. “I tell you what,” I say. “Why don’t I look into this, get her assignments together, find out what’s going on with her attendance, and get back to you.”

He nods.

“I know you have to work, but is there any way you could stop by tomorrow to pick up her assignments?”

“Tomorrow?” He looks pained. “I’ve missed a lot a days myself, what with my mother being in and out of the hospital. But I’ll get here.”

Faculty begins trickling in just as Mr. D’Anjou heads out. I quickly shut my office door, eager to get back to my report, but thoughts of Mr. D’Anjou distract me. I can’t focus no matter how hard I try. I glance at the clock: 7:47. I give up! I guess I’d better deal with what’s on my mind, because I’m not getting anywhere with this report anyway.

At the program office, I pick up a copy of Monique’s schedule, loop back by the attendance office to get her attendance record, and then go by the guidance office for a copy of her transcript. I scan that as I walk back to my office. Boy, her grades have dropped, not in every subject, but almost. No wonder her father is upset.

I need to talk to her teachers about what’s going on, preferably before I see Mr. D’Anjou again. I phone down to the program office; they’ll have a copy of teacher schedules for me in about ten minutes. When I pick that up, it turns out her teachers are all over the building, of course. I should’ve known that! And with the school day in session, most of them are teaching now in any case. I decide to put a work request in Monique’s teachers’ mailboxes. That will be quicker, I figure, then traveling all over the school, and I can catch up with her teachers for a one-on-one update another day, when I have more time (who am I kidding?). It’s 9:30 before I got back to the data report. It’s going to be down to the wire.

Click here to see Monique’s attendance record.

Click here to see Monique’s transcript.

Click here to see teacher schedules.

Click here to see teacher room assignments.

See the make-up work request form below:

Monique’s math teacher, Mr. Patinsky is frustrated by his inability to help Monique keep up with assignments while she’s out.

Michael Patinsky doesn’t have the tech skills to design his own web page.

I’m so tired I almost fall asleep on the clanking subway ride into school. I stayed up the last two nights watching the play-offs—they would be on the west coast—and I’m paying for it now. I don’t know how I’m going to teach.

I make it through the first few classes okay—I won’t win any teaching awards today, but I remain coherent, at least, only stumble over a few things, forget a few names. By midday, though, I’m desperate for a nap. I’m tempted to just lie down on the floor during my planning, but I grab a Snickers from the snack machine instead, and take a brisk walk to the workroom for mail pick-up.

Angela Gavelli designed a web page to help her students keep up with class assignments.

I’m moving fast back to my room, the sugar high kicking in, when I see Angela Gavelli’s door is open. She and I have worked together for years now. We used to have adjacent rooms, but then they re-organized the school and we don’t collaborate nearly as much. We still get together for Chinese food now and then, but I hardly ever hang out with her the way I used to. Might as well catch up with her now.


Michael and Angela discuss Monique’s missing work request. (dialup OR broadband)

Back in my classroom, I pull out my grade book and begin documenting Monique’s missing assignments. It’s probably just the lack of sleep, but I feel depressed. By Monique and her absences, Angela and her website, and me with my ineffectiveness. There has to be a better way to keep track of everything. I wonder if Angela could just copy her website and I could plunk in my information and assignments? Is that possible? A sort of web page cut-and-paste? I just don’t know. Besides, Angela has to fill out this same ridiculous form, so what good is her beautiful website?

Click here to see Angela Gavelli’s website.

See Michael Patinsky’s gradebook below:

Monique wonders if there’s any way for her to keep up with school while caring for her grandmother.

Monique calls her friend to get assignments while she’s out of school.

I can tell Dad is mad just from how he closes the door to our apartment. He comes straight back to where I’m sitting with Grams. I’ve got my computer in here so I can work and keep an eye on her at the same time.

“How is she?” he asks, softly, because Grams is sleeping. He pulls her blankets up, just a little, and checks her oxygen levels. Dad’s the youngest in the family, the only boy, and my aunts always say he’s the favorite.

He turns to me then, and hands me one of those big manila envelopes, the kind you always see piled on secretaries desks. “I stopped by the school,” he whispers. “Only two of your teachers gave you work.”

My heart drops. Dad took off work for this! “But, Dad,” I whisper back. “I need that work!”

He raises his hand for me to be quieter, even though I know Grams won’t hear us over the buzz of the oxygen tanks. Dad knows how important it is to me to do well. It matters to him, too. He wants me to get a good education, it’s why Grams moved the family to this country in the first place. For all of us.

I open the envelope. It’s from my favorite teachers, of course. I’m already up-to-date in Ms. Gavelli’s class. I look at Mr. Patinsky’s two worksheets. No way is this all the work I’m missing. I check the assignment sheet and read his note. “Will need to complete group research project independently.” What research project? I’ve gotta call Katie and see if she can fill me in on the details. I can’t get another D.