Yesterday the 4th-8th grade students at the local public school went on a special field trip. They got to see a play-version of The Hobbit in a live production at a theater in Albuquerque.

This trip was planned weeks in advance. Students were given permission slips to return, which clearly stated that parents needed to bring their children to the school one hour early on the appointed day. Most students promptly returned the required forms.

During this past week, students were reminded each day that they could not take the usual school bus; they needed to find someone to drive them to school so they would not miss the field trip. Everyone seemed to understand this requirement.

There were 6 students (out of 50 or so eligible for the trip) who never brought back a signed permission form. Perhaps they “forgot,” or they “lost” the form, or their parents never signed it. Most likely they made the decision that they didn’t want to go on the trip. After all, in most Navajo families the parents rarely say “no” to their children. If it was important to the child, the signed forms would have been turned in long before the trip occurred.

I was assigned to oversee these students who were being left behind. It was still a school day with attendance expected at either the theater or back at the school. When I got to school yesterday morning, I discovered that there were more students who had “missed the bus.” I was responsible for 15 students, rather than just 6 children.

A few of the girls were belligerent. They had returned the required permission forms weeks earlier. They were grumpy that they had been left behind. They rode the usual school bus to school and were shocked to find that the classes had not waited for them. I reminded them that they had been told (and told, and told) that they needed to find their own way to school to be there at least an hour earlier than usual. That didn’t seem to sink in. The girls remained grumpy throughout the day that the teachers had been so mean and left them behind.

As I looked around the room, I realized that 25% of the eligible students were sitting in that room with me. It was interesting to note that these were the same students who are significantly behind—both in grade level and in day-to-day assignments. These are the students who lack family support for education; the ones who seem to be least knowledgeable about cultural differences in time management and expectations between Anglo and Navajo worlds. These are the children of adults who walk through life as helpless (and hope-less) “victims.”

I realized yesterday that we are failing these children in more fundamental ways than merely their lack of a solid education foundation for adult life. They lack models who can show them how to “catch the bus.” They lack understanding of the expectations of the work world they hope to join someday.

STOP! How can we help these Navajo children not “miss the bus” in life?

Perhaps even more important than teaching these kids the 3 Rs, we need to help them gain skills for functional adulthood. We need to help them take responsibility for their own lives. We need to help them so they can change the patterns in their family culture so that THEY won’t “miss the bus” in their own lives!


(all photos from fotosearch stock images)