A Day in the Park, or a Kid under a Tombstone

One of the field trips many parents liked to accompany the class on was Henry’s Spring trip to the Gold Rush capitol of the county. Even a dad who was a doctor took the day off to come along. This always made me feel better about any possible injuries on such a trip. There was a museum, an old jail with a platform for hanging rustlers and murderers, a barn filled with covered wagons, farm wagons and other equipment from the historical period. There was also an old school house where Henry held a pioneer spelling bee during his field trip with the class as an example of the way school used to be. They brought lunch and ate together singing songs at picnic tables under the big shade trees. Henry always brought ice cream as a surprise and this was also a huge hit. Joey mixed among all the kids and had a great time as they played red light green light and other games.

This was a marvelous teaching and learning opportunity and the class and parents loved it. Wilbur always came along and any kids Henry thought might need extra supervision were assigned to supervise Wilbur by keeping him on lead, or on two leads if there were two kids. Henry had trained Wilbur well so if the kids got out of bounds, Henry just whistled for Wilbur and he dragged the kids back.

When it was time to leave, the kids got back in the bus along with Henry and Wilbur. The parents in their cars followed the bus as it pulled out on the highway and started to head back to school, a half hour drive away. Henry always “remembered” at this point that he hadn’t told the bus driver that he was taking the class to the pioneer cemetery up the hill. The bus driver told Henry that part was not on the approved field trip itinerary but Henry quickly assumed his mill worker approach and ordered the bus driver to make the damn turn. The parent cars followed the bus and in a few minutes all were assembled at the edge of the pioneer cemetery to conduct tombstone rubbings. Henry pulled paper and colored chalk and crayons from a big bag and gave directions. Everyone was eager to take part in this interesting but scary activity. The kids spread out across the graveyard and Henry walked among them helping them to make the tombstone rubbings.

Suddenly a child screamed and everyone looked in his direction. He had been rubbing a fairly large tombstone and it tipped over on top of him. It looked as if he was being crushed by this large piece of old marble. The first parents to reach him bent down together and tried to lift the stone. But they couldn’t make it budge. They tried to pull the child out from under the stone but he was now screaming that his leg hurt. He was trapped as all the parents and Henry ran towards the stone.

Henry spoke calmly to the boy saying, “Now Charlie, this is no fun. Just relax and I’ll get you out of there.”

With that, Henry turned his back to the stone, squatted down and lifted it easily. The parents pulled Charlie out from under the stone and made room for the doctor to take a look. Charlie had stopped yelling and was calm as the doctor felt his leg and checked him out for injuries. In a few minutes, Charlie stood up and limped towards the bus. Henry called all the kids and adults back to the bus, collected the tombstone rubbings and boarded the bus with Wilbur.

When the group arrived at school, no one wanted to tell me what happened. The story about Henry fetching Joey from home had spread among parents and he was beginning the gain the status as a law breaking folk hero., even as my own reputation as a risk averse rule-keeping bureaucrat increased.

Anyway, I happened to see the kid limping and asked what happened to him. The doctor let me know about the tombstone and that he had checked the kid out and felt he would be fine. The custodian joked that he might not be much of a doctor if he had all this time to be on field trips with a bunch of kids.

None of this distracted me. I had read the itinerary and I knew there was no part of the trip that permitted tombstone rubbing. If the child had been injured, the liability of the school, district and teacher would be huge.

Henry came up to me and said with a grin, “Sorry boss.” This felt terrible. Here I was working with a great teacher who was beloved by years of parents and children and I was relegated to being his “boss.” Maybe that’s what administration is really about. But I rejected the label and said, “I don’t want to be your boss, Henry. I’d rather be the guy who helps you keep teaching.”

Henry nodded and grunted, “Thanks,” and then went off to round up his class.

The following week Joey’s mother moved to a new job out of our attendance area. She couldn’t drive him to our school because she was using the car to drive to work.

He took the bus to his new school. In a month, he was referred for assessment and diagnosed with various emotional disabilities that qualified him for placement in a self contained Special Education classroom. His new teacher at his new school was not like Henry.

There were many Henrys in my school and some factory style lifers as well. The story of a brilliant teacher bringing a needy child back from severe emotional distress happened often. And the work was often reversed when the family moved to a new school where the child might receive a factory style lifer as a teacher.