The final year teachers of the local high school in the coastal town of Port Shepstone faced one another around the conference table in the principal’s office. The meeting, chaired by Principal Angela Harding, had been called towards the end of the third and penultimate term of the school year to ratify results of the trial matriculation exams for 1990.
“Before we get into the specific results per subject, are there any particular anomalies anyone would like to highlight?” she asked.
Several heads nodded vigorously.
Angela looked around at her senior staff over the top of gold-rimmed spectacles. She was a large woman with grey hair cut in a severe bob, strong in both appearance and character.
“With whom do we want to start, then?” she asked.
“Geoff Foster.” It came emphatically, from several voices at once.
“Geoff? But he’s one of our best students.” Angela made no attempt to hide her surprise.
“Was,” corrected Chris Ward, head of science. “His physical science marks in the trials were almost twenty percent down on his previous average, and I believe the trend is the same in all his subjects. He’s barely passed in some cases.”
More nods around the table.
Chris’s fingers drummed on the polished surface of the table in barely concealed frustration. Every way he turned it, it made no sense. It was not a trivial matter. Geoff did not have many routes open to him beyond his academic strength. “What’s more,” he continued, “I teach his sister, Megan, in standard six. Her latest test results are down, too. Science isn’t her strength, as it is Geoff’s, but her marks have dropped noticeably relative to her average over the year.”
“Yes,” concurred Lillian Sanders, head of English. “Geoff’s English marks in the trials were a disaster. I also teach Megan. English is her strong subject, yet her latest marks in that are also way down.”
“What’s going on?” Angela queried. “If it’s both of them, is it something at home?”
There was a pause. Then Lillian spoke up hesitantly. “I’m not sure I should bring this up. It feels rather like breaking a confidence, but under the circumstances …” She sighed. “Geoff comes to see me in the book room some lunchtimes. He isn’t particularly talkative, as you know, but he’s dropped the occasional comment. We know the home background, how protective his mother is of him, how dependent he is on his family because he has so little peer group contact. Well, it appears there is some kind of family crisis. I’m not clear on exactly what has happened, but apparently there has been talk for a while of his parents separating. I don’t know if there’s any justification to it, but he’s mentioned fears of being separated from his sister, too.”
“Oh,” Angela commented. “Oh. Yes. That explains a lot.”
She and Chris Ward exchanged glances. As well as being head of science, he was also her deputy. He and she knew all too well that the Foster family structure had its flaws. They knew, too – as did Lillian – how heavily the seventeen-year-old Geoff relied on that structure. Megan, his thirteen-year-old sister, did too. Naturally. But Geoff’s life had a complication which Megan’s did not. One which isolated him from most of the usual social structures of teenage high school life. Geoff was disabled, his left side underdeveloped and weak, with little control. It was not an attribute which promoted integration into the image-conscious milieu of the average mainstream high school.
Angela glanced around at the teachers. “Is there anything to be done about Geoff’s results in the trials?”
“No.” Lillian and Chris shook their heads in unison. “All the subject teachers have already done as much rescuing as can be done. We can’t give marks for what isn’t there.”
“Well,” Angela mused, “I’ll write a letter to send to the universities to support his entrance applications. It’s the best we can do. Let’s keep an eye on him and Megan next term, though. If the trend continues, we’ll have to see what can be done to help.”