Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Sue Carlton: The girl, the grownups and the prom that wasn't

The twisted tale of the prom and the parent, the principal and the teacher, and in the end, the police, had some great teachable moments.

Mostly for grownups.

Diana Byrnes' daughter Caroline, a junior at River Ridge High in New Port Richey, wanted to go to her prom at the Lowry Park Zoo. She busted deadline to buy the ticket. Her mom and her principal squared off. And it is fair to say when police get involved, the prom ended badly.

The story sparked water cooler arguments across town, with debate about helicopter parents versus rigid principals, about a teacher who was empathetic or irresponsible or both.

But somewhere in there, couldn't we find a lesson in how to use a bad situation to teach a kid?

Here's how things went wrong, according to the tale told this week by the Times' Jeffrey S. Solochek:

Caroline, a straight-A student by the way, did not try to buy her $75 prom ticket until the last day they were sold, a Friday.

When she couldn't find anyone selling them, she waited until Monday. So yes, she could have been more responsible and pro-active. A finger wag for her, the teenager in this.

So about the adults.

To my view, you absolutely cannot blame principal Maria Swanson for her intent to teach kids that the Real World turns out to be full of deadlines that do not move, and the Real World is also seriously lacking in parents to argue your way out by firing off emails to the superintendent. (This, to kids for whom the Real World is probably still a show on MTV.) So a principal tired of students missing deadlines held a hard line.

Except maybe there could have been some wiggle room after the teacher who headed up the prom said she hadn't been totally available that last Friday.

You felt some empathy for that teacher, who got in serious hot water after allowing Caroline to volunteer in the coat check, though, okay, this was in defiance of what the principal said.

You felt less so at allegations that she invited 20-year-old men to help with the prom and they danced with young girls.

It ended badly, with the girl coming to the prom with her mom and a scene in which mom either never raised her voice or shouted, depending on the version. Either way, it is not good when the police make sure you leave.

Not the best prom memory ever.

So the story was a talker, with arguments falling along these lines:

Teach that kid a lesson in responsibility. She missed deadline, period, the end.

Or: Have a heart. There were other circumstances. And it's her prom.

Here's what might have been a nice object lesson here: She found herself in a mess, so let her help figure out how to fix it. (This occasionally occurs in the Real World, too.)

Maybe they could have let her plead her own case with a big mea culpa to the principal. Let her suggest ways to make up for not being as on-the-stick as she might have. Let her put it in writing: I'll tutor X-number of hours, I'll do community service, I'll do something to better my school.

I'll be a lesson myself.

That might have been a teachable moment, and not just for the kids watching.

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