We were on vacation this summer, somewhere along the Northern California coast, lurking among the giant Redwoods. We had just parked at a trail head to do some more exploring when a red, sporty convertible pulled up beside our sensible Honda CRV. It was driven by a middle-aged man in sunglasses with a huge happy-lappy dog in the backseat. I was fetching empty pop cans from the car, trying to avoid eye contact, as we had taken the final parking spot in the lot and the sporty convertible was probably annoyed with us. Noé popped out of his seat and I heard an audible gasp coming from the convertible, followed by a loud, "Noé!"
Huh? We were hundreds of miles from home!
I turned around and convertible guy introduced himself to me as Joe, one of the vice principals at Noé's high school. We chatted and introduced Asher, who would be attending the school next year, then he took off (since we had taken the last parking spot and all....whoops. It seemed really awkward to offer it up at that point?)
I was relaying this story to Noé's lead teacher, Ashlee, yesterday. Noé and I were at the school to register and get his student body card and TriMet pass and to tour the new school (Noé attended a temporary school building across town during the remodel, part of the reason I did not recognize convertible guy as school administration).
"Wow... I was just so impressed that he knew Noé by name! It is such a big school," I told Ashlee.
And then she told me the story of Noé's secret school life:
Last year was Noé's freshman year, and he was mostly enrolled in special education classes. The special education program is large enough that he was able to switch classes each period, just like a general education student. Noé did well with the transitions and quickly learned his way around the school, so his teachers started to let him travel to his classes independently.
However, he never seemed to make it to his class period directly before lunch. His teacher would inform the office, and inevitably VP Joe was sent out to hunt for Noé and send him to class. The first time he didn't show up for class his teachers and VP Joe were in a complete panic. "Maybe we had let him be independent too early in the school year," they worried.
But Noé was quickly located. He was found.... and this will not be a surprise to anyone who knows him... in the lunchroom inhaling an early lunch.
And every subsequent time he didn't show up for class, he was found... in the lunchroom. So yes, VP Joe got to know Noé very well.
Apparently his teachers tried all kinds strategies to help him remember to go to class and not the lunchroom, but nothing worked. The problem was they were assuming that Noé was misunderstanding his school schedule. But there was no misunderstanding - he was choosing lunch over class. It was his very own version of ditching class!
We have these types of problems with Noé constantly and I am always reminded of what my friend Ami once said about him, "Noé just does what everyone else really wants to." Yeah, he's kind-of my hero that way.
As Ashlee relayed this story, so much of last school year suddenly made sense. I felt like I was putting money into Noé's lunch account every week and when I finally sat down and did the math, he was buying an average of two lunches every day. Turns out he was buying early lunch and then regular lunch on my dime.
I also received regular school alerts informing me that Noé had been marked absent from class. But only one class per day. Yet I knew he was at school...
I decided not to contact his teachers about Noé's magically-disappearing lunch account balance or the mysterious absences. They are an amazing group of dedicated educators and terribly overworked. Noé was thriving at school. I would let the small stuff go. But I have to admit that I would find myself wondering about it this summer at random times. Mystery solved, Noé has a secret school life in the cafeteria.