Monday, September 27, 2010
Back to School...again
Suddenly the summer months are gone and autumn is coming down the track. There’s no time to think about all of the things I didn’t do with my children when I had them all to myself for those two short months. The back to school schedule does not allow for much sitting around and reflecting. There are emergency contact papers to sign, school sports schedules to keep track of, and of course the yearly back to school nights to attend.
Sam’s back to school night was last week. I had spent the whole morning working on his older brother’s college plans. My oldest son has very specific dreams about where he wants to go to school and it’s proven to practically be a part time job on my end, figuring out what we need to do to get him there. I was totally immersed in college talk, college prep, and college research for a good part of the day.
Soon the clock was reminding me that it was time to put the files away and make dinner. Then, after setting everyone up with homework to keep them busy, I headed off to Sam’s school to see where my youngest son spends his days. The teen issues of the morning were still lingering in my mind as I stepped through those elementary school doors and for just a few minutes I almost felt out of place.
I looked around at the faces of other parents I’ve come to know in the four years we’ve lived here. Meeting them and spending time with them has helped me to slowly feel at home in New York. It’s been nice to live in one state long enough to recognize faces when I walk through the door. And because I know their family situations, I’m aware that many of them are living in younger kid households.
They go home to dining rooms that have high chairs in the corner and living rooms inhabited by Fisher Price people. They don’t have six different guitars for the Rock Band video game leaning against their couch. They don’t have teenager cars filling up their driveways and teenager appetites sweeping their fridges bare. Most of them are figuring out which preschool might fit their other children best, not which college. It sometimes makes me feel like I live on a different planet.
I look around and wonder if there are others in the room who feel the same way. Maybe families I don’t know who also have teens in their house. Or maybe a grandparent who is raising a young grandchild. I wonder if they also have to do mental pep talks to themselves, about being just as important as younger parents to the child who counts on them every day, as we all try to slide into tiny desk chairs on back to school night.
Sam’s at the top end of the elementary school ladder. Two more years in those hallways and we’ll no longer have a child at Genet Elementary. No more back to school nights in those long, artfully tiled hallways. No more parent meetings in the beautifully restored auditorium. And as much as I sometimes have to work at it to feel like I still belong there, I will surely miss those corridors when our time is up.
One of the first places we visited when we moved to New York in the summer of 2006 was the front steps of Genet. Sam was starting kindergarten and we were told that the class lists were posted on the front doors of the school. I drove all four of our children over to check it out. We were inspired by the beauty of the building and just had to take a picture of Sam under the incredible relief sculptures that grace the sides of the front doors, especially the one that reads ‘Kindergarten’. How many schools have such a perfect photo opportunity for the newest in their flock?
Then school started and I found my way into his classroom to volunteer. It was a nice break from unpacking moving boxes and to say the adult interaction was appreciated would be an understatement. Every week I looked forward to my visits, enjoying every aspect, from walking down the long hallways lined with creative revolving art work to sitting one on one with a bunch of five year olds who turned into Sam’s best friends. Eventually I found one of my own best friends in those classrooms and treasure her friendship to this day.
I’ve been seeing a lot in the media about how schools in America are failing. To an outsider who only sees our national news, the picture is pretty bleak. We have many schools and even entire districts that are not providing even close to an adequate education for the youngsters who show up to their classrooms every day. The reality is humbling. As a person with an education degree, and four children in public schools, this topic is close to my heart.
The bleak news reports remind me to be thankful. I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have to beg for a charter school placement to feel like my child is getting a quality education. I just have to get him to the end of the driveway every morning so the bus can take him up the road to a building full of fabulous teachers who love him and care about his education. I’m not naïve. I know no school is perfect and there is always room for new ideas and new programs. But for the past four years my son’s been encouraged, challenged, praised and loved by some pretty amazing teachers and staff.
Back to school night is humbling to me as I watch my littlest guy make his way up the ranks. But it’s also a humbling reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for. We’re blessed to live in a school district that’s getting a lot of things right. And with enough parent involvement, things can only get better. So I have to say, bring on the new school year.
I’m ready for nine more months of learning and growing.