I messed up my due dates. “I made it quite clear the paper was due before last Friday. I posted grades last Friday and will not accept any work from last quarter at this point,” The X Factor frostily glared at me, refusing to take my proffered excuse of getting the due dates mixed up. To be fair, she did probably say before last Friday. I felt so stupid about not handing in my paper I could feel my eyes tearing up. Then I really felt stupid. I don’t know if she wanted to avoid a breakdown on my part or if she had a moment of human compassion but she huffed out a sigh. “Well, I will allow this exception for this time. I need to have that essay on my desk before the end of school.” Not asking why the sudden reprieve or extension I nodded my thanks and left for my next class. Good thing I had my thumb drive with my NaNo entry with me. I hurried into the school library after second period and instead of eating lunch I slid into “get it done” mode. That means I flip up my hoodie so the librarian won’t spy my ear buds. Our school has a no electronics policy. If caught I can do the Bambi eyes routine, “Oh, I didn’t know it wasn’t okay in the library. I’m sorry.” We’ll see if it works. I hope I won’t get caught. I can’t let any distractions keep me from getting this paper in and on Mrs. X’s desk by 3 pm.
I’m revising like crazy trying to make the paper come together in an acceptable format because after a quarter of The X’s flying red pen I have a pretty good idea what she wants and doesn’t want. I’m on the con bullets and on the homeward stretch with fifteen minutes remaining of lunch break, when I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Busted,” I thought. I’m all ready to plead my case when I look up and instead of the middle-aged, horn-rimmed librarian–really, it’s no stereotype, our school librarian looks like every school librarian stereotype that exists–I behold cornflower blue eyes set off by dark brown bangs. This is not the librarian. Popping out a bud I cock my head and listen for the girl to repeat her request.
“Excuse me, please. Could you help with me my computer?” This is not an accent from around here. My brain kicks in and I realize it’s one of the foreign exchange students. I detach both my ear buds and stand up. The girl smiles at me.
“I cannot understand the message on my screen,” she says. “Access denied, means what?”
I look at the clock and look at my screen. So close to finishing. Presence of mind gets me to save my work on my thumb drive before I look over at the girl’s screen.
Our school has adopted the triple nos. No electronics. No profanity. No PDA, which is public display of affection, meaning no gross making out stuff where teachers can see you. The admin has also adopted “guidelines for our safety and protection.” Simply put that means we cannot email or log onto sites that might contain harmful material. Do they think teens don’t do any of this on our own time? There are computer ninjas in our school who took the prohibitive as a direct challenge. I hear they keep our staff tech guy busy in their attempts to kick down the firewalls. I guess the school board figures they can keep us free from undesirable circumstances and influences for at least seven to eight hours of the day.
“Access denied,” I repeat after her. I read the print underneath the message. “Oh, you can’t email on school computers.” I can go back to my paper. That was too easy. The girl stares at the screen and looks beseechingly to me.
“My host family does not have what you say, internet quick connection. Too many in the family who need computer. I cannot easily contact my family. I hope I can do from here. Public library too busy too.”
“Do I look like I have a magic wand?” I think to myself. I can’t change the policy. What I am supposed to do? I look at the clock. Lunch is over in five minutes. I give up trying to finish my paper and think about coming in after third and working on it and be late to my fourth hour class. “I’m sorry,” I shrug. “They are pretty strict about the email policy.”
The girl slips her thumb up to her lips and sort of nibbles on it. Oh man, she isn’t going to cry is she? No wonder I wore down The X Factor’s defenses—there really is something to girls crying. Her situation also gets me to kick into my Scout Finch mode, the walk-around-in-someone-else’s-shoes way of thinking. I wouldn’t like being across the world from my parents and not be able to contact them. “Tell you what, let’s see what the librarian says. Maybe there is an exception for foreign exchange students.”
The girl brightens up and flashes me that smile again. She must have a dozen guys call her every night.
“Thank you so much. I need help sometimes and cannot say how I need the help. This would be so nice.” Suddenly I feel this huge weight of responsibility for this girl. I’m thinking it would be awful if the librarian shuts down the request. The lunch bell rings, which means six minutes passing to the next class.
“We better make it quick or we’ll be late to class.” She nods. The librarian is checking out a book and I try not to appear too agitated. Third period is my history class and I don’t want to be late. I don’t want to have to get a late slip and get the “students-who-are-late-are-so-annoying” look from Mr. Q. Other than his late student pet peeve he’s an okay teacher, considering it’s history and history can be boring. The librarian stamps the book and looks up. “Yes, ladies. Can I help you with something?”
“She’s a foreign exchange student and she can’t access email easily at home. I think she has dial-up or something like that at her host family’s house so it’s hard for her to contact her family. She’s hoping she get use email here at school.”
The librarian breathes in this deep breath as if getting ready to pass judgment. She then stops and looks thoughtful. “It seems we allowed this for another foreign exchange student a couple of years ago. I suggest she goes to her counselor and see if her counselor can get clearance from administration. If they clear it then I see no problem.”
That easy? The class bell rings and I realize I am tardy. One minute late or ten, it doesn’t matter at this point. If I’m helping this girl I might as well carry it all the way through.
“Thank you,” I acknowledge the librarian. She’s already scanning a kid’s book, and simply nods to me. I turn to the girl. “Do you know where the counseling center is?” She looks at me in a way I can tell she is hoping I will take her there. Why not? “Umm, my class is in that direction. I’ll walk with you there.” We leave the library and that awkward silence of not knowing what to say doesn’t form. It’s kind of companionable walking next to this girl. I take a guess and ask if she is French.
“Yes,” she answers my question. “I am from a very small province in France. It is a town but not big like here,” She falters a little in talking to me, looks puzzled, and tries again. “English is much hard for me than I thought. My brain thinks it is right word to say, but my mouth it comes all wrong out sometimes.” She laughs and I laugh too.
“English is hard for me too sometimes and I was born here. I end up saying the wrong things more times than I want to think.” She gives me an understanding look. The type of look that says, “I know you are saying that to make me feel better.”
We arrive at the counseling center. “Who is your counselor?”
“I cannot remember. I meet her only once. She is tall with lots of fuzzy blonde hair.” She puts up her hands and makes expanding motions on each side of her head. I realize she is describing Ms. P’s bushy hair. It’s in bad need of styling. It’s either a perm gone wild or naturally curly hair that never got tamed.
I step up to the counter and ask the student aide about how to see Ms. P. “You will be so late to class now,” the foreign exchange girl says to me. I shrug. “I thank you for this help. It’s very nice.” I shrug again. I feel false since I am not the nice helpful kind of person usually. Ms. P comes out and greets the girl.
“Simone. How are you? Is everything okay?” Simone begins to explain how she can’t use the host family’s internet and it’s too busy and inconvenient to use the public library’s system and she is hoping to use the school’s system but gets locked out because of the school’s filter system. At least I think this is what she is saying because she and Ms. P are doing all this in French. What a cool sounding language. I didn’t know she knew French. Suddenly Ms. P transforms from frumpy-looking, in bad need of a makeover, to this almost chic European vogue person. Can speaking French make a person attractive? Ms. P stops and looks at me.
“Are you a friend of Simone’s? She tells me that it’s been difficult to get to know other students. She says you have been very kind to her.”
I know my cheeks redden. “Oh, I just happened to help her out is all. Umm, I should get to class. I’m already late.” I turn to leave and Ms. P scribbles on one of the counseling slips.
“Then take this. Consider it your commission for being a good ambassador.” Blue tickets means no tardy marking since it’s a counseling center pass. I guess technically speaking a counselor did speak with me. I mumble a good-bye to Simone and head out the door. Turning down B corridor I see Mr. Q and my history class coming my way.
“There you are,” he greets me. “Looks like you get to save yourself some time. We’re heading to the library to look up some websites on the Industrial Revolution. Here, I’ll take your blue slip. I haven’t taken roll yet anyway.”
At the library The Q hands out a list of sites for us to check out and questions to answer about the site. He says once the assignment is done we can do what we want, adding, “As long as it is school related.” That will be an interesting interpretation for most students. I can hear it, “But I’m shopping for my prom dress for the winter ball. Isn’t that school related?”
Unlike the other students I don’t chat and sidetrack onto sites and get my work for him done in about thirty minutes, which means I have an hour to work on my essay. I madly type and revise, get it printed and hurry down the hall to hand it to her on my way to fourth hour and even get a nod of what I consider approval as she glanced it over. I am officially caught up with homework. Not a bad start to a new quarter. Too bad I don’t have any plans beyond working on my NaNaNaNa (Beethoven four beat) thingymabob.
- School libraries changing with move to digital resources (eschoolnews.com)
- German foreign exchange student shares her story (victoriaadvocate.com)