This is a true story 1. After you read it, you may determine that it possesses a moral, or two, but none are intended.
The school day had come to an end and I was sitting in my office, finishing up paperwork and responding to a few emails. As I was wrapping up my work and preparing to leave, I received a call that security was needed for a bus. A quick glance at the clock and I realized it was probably an issue with our late bus, so I calmly walked out to the bus lane to address what I assumed was likely some kids who refused to stay seated when the bus was in motion — our most common bus infraction.
Instead, I encountered the driver standing outside the bus door between a small boy, Joe 2, who was a tearful mess and two very angry sisters. Apparently, Joe — possibly spurned by one of the girls — had boarded the bus and hit her. Her sister, seeing the unprovoked punch, rushed to the rescue by clamoring over several bus seats to get at Joe. The two girls then proceeded to give the young man a fairly thorough beat down before the driver could halt the fisticuffs. Thus, Joe was in tears and the two girls were still very angry. In my estimation, it is likely the bus driver saved Joe’s life.
Since it was getting late and this incident would require statements and talking to witnesses, I elected to call the parents to pick up their kids and deal with the issue the next morning.
The following day, among other things, I spoke with a number of students on the bus and interviewed the two girls. Since Joe appeared to be the instigator, I addressed his behavior last and assigned him consequences. Unfortunately, due to several unexpected interruptions and unrelated issues, Joe spent the larger portion of his afternoon seated outside of my office. Late in the day, I looked at this poor kid who was discouraged about his consequences and still smarting from his pummeling at the hands of the sisters. He had been seated in the hard plastic chair for a long time and appeared to be on the verge of another teary meltdown. I felt sorry for him.
“Would you like to take a walk with me?” I asked. Joe nodded affirmatively. So we went for a walk around campus. We visited the school garden and I asked him some questions about his interests, hoping to redirect his thoughts from the fight and it’s consequences. On the way back, we walked by a new ice cream vending machine 3 that had recently been installed on campus.
“Hey, I haven’t tried out this machine yet, would you like some ice cream?” I asked.
“Yes,” Joe responded quietly.
So I bought us both an ice cream bar and Joe thanked me. I was feeling better about things — hopeful that Joe had learned his lesson, understood his consequences, and would trust me as someone who wasn’t going to hold this one incident against him. The end of the school day was rapidly approaching, so we began our return trip to the office.
“Hey, Mr. Delp,” Joe asked, “Is it okay if we get my scooter out of the bike rack? I don’t have a lock for it and other kids sometimes take it and hide it from me if I don’t get there soon enough.”
I looked at Joe — his diminutive size and meek mannerism — and could picture that he might be the target of teasing and bullying. I was really beginning to like this kid, in spite of his poor decision.
“Sure,” I replied. “What color is your scooter?”
“White with green wheels. It’s right by the gate, between a couple of bikes.”
When we arrived at the bike rack, Joe pointed out his white scooter with green wheels. It was exactly where he said it would be. We were both holding our ice cream, so I picked up the scooter, flipped it over my right shoulder and we walked out of the bike rack, past the security cameras and continued to my office. Both of us were still enjoying our ice cream. I set the scooter in the corner of my office and the Joe returned to his seat in the hallway. He thanked me again for the ice cream and for allowing him to retrieve his scooter.
“I have to go to after school supervision.” I explained to Joe, “When the bell rings, you can get your scooter out of my office and head home.” He nodded affirmatively, while licking his ice cream bar. He even managed a slight smile.
I positioned myself on-campus. The bell rang and students flooded out of their classrooms to begin their trek to the bus lane, or out the front gate. I had been on duty for about ten minutes, when our school security guard’s voice came across the radio requesting a response from our resource officer.
“Uhh, Mike. We have a parent and student in the office that would like to report a stolen scooter,” said the security guard.
I immediately felt my heart rate increase. I pressed the talk button on my radio and hesitantly asked, “What color is the missing scooter?”
I already knew the answer to my question.
Pause (it seemed long).
“It is white with green wheels,” replied the security guard.
I felt the blood drain from my face. I now felt a mix of humiliation and anger — at myself for being so gullible and at Joe for taken advantage of my emotions.
Using my radio, I quietly responded to this revelation, “I know where the scooter is. Tell the parent I will get it back and will have it for their student tomorrow morning.” I didn’t mention that I was the person who had stolen the scooter from the bike rack.
I made a quick call to the parent of my accomplice to let her know that I was on my way to their home to recover the contraband. She assured me that the student’s older sibling would confiscate the scooter and hold it until my arrival. About ten minutes later, I arrived at the student’s house and was greeted by the brother who, thankfully, was in possession of the white scooter with green wheels. I asked where Joe was.
“Oh, he took off as soon as I got the scooter from him. I think he knew you would be coming.”
I loaded the scooter in my vehicle and began the return trip to the school, grateful to have recovered the stolen property, but lamenting a missed opportunity to have “a conversation” with my young friend. In a last ditch effort to quell my rising anger at being played by a junior high student, I decided to circle the neighborhood streets a few times. I turned a corner in a small trailer park and low and behold there was Joe — riding up the sidewalk on, of all things, a scooter. He saw me, and for some reason he resigned himself to the notion that he had been caught. I was afraid he might run, but instead he just stopped and waited for me. I put my vehicle in park, in the middle of the street, got out and motioned for him to come to me. He did.
Those who know me will testify to the fact that I have a very calm presence and it is extremely rare that I would raise my voice, or yell at a student. However, this situation had gotten the best of me. I was embarrassed by the role I had played in the theft, and I was (at least momentarily) angry that I had shown empathy for Joe. I unleashed a torrent of admonitions at the kid. The spectacle of a 6’4″ man in a shirt and tie, standing in the middle of the street, yelling and wagging his finger at a 4’10” kid drew a neighborhood crowd. I was vaguely aware of people looking on and laughing as Joe patiently endured my verbal rampage. I no longer remember anything specific I said to the student, except for one thing.
“I bought you ice cream!”4
My tongue lashing ended uneventfully and Joe and I parted ways. He continued his ride around the neighborhood on what I hope was a scooter that actually belonged to him. I returned to school where I was subjected to heckling, threats of arrest for aiding and abetting a robbery, and critiques of the security footage of me, nonchalantly carrying a white scooter with green wheels over my shoulder — while eating ice cream.
Just a typical day as a junior high principal.
1 The events described are true to the best of my recollection. However, since this occurred some time ago, I can not guarantee that every detail is entirely accurate. I’m getting old.
2 Joe was not the student’s real name — at least I don’t think it was. Again, this occurred so long ago that I don’t even remember the kids actual name.
3 This ice cream machine was truly a marvel of the times. It had a vacuum hose that dropped down into a small cooler and sucked out the selected ice cream novelty. It was awesome. However, we are no longer allowed to supplement the sugar intake of our students so the machine has been removed.
4 It is likely that this will be the title of my memoir.