Friday, August 28, 2009

Feet Under The Desk Equals Knowledge In The Brain

There is something that has really been bothering me lately as we get into the full swing of this school year.

Yesterday, I joined hundreds of other parents at the Kirkwood High School Open House and Meet-the-Teacher Day. We were parents of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior students. There was an opportunity to join the Mother's Club, the PTO, and the Pioneer Boosters as well as any of the other clubs supporting the arts. We were able to purchase planners, yearbooks, and buzz books. Cookies and punch was provided by the PTO (I know because I brought in 4 dozen yesterday morning myself). Everything was very organized and orderly and while there was a crowd, it was easy to navigate.

The administrators as well as grade level principals were introduced at the assembly about an hour after the open house. These same professionals were on hand to help lost parents find the right building or classroom. In addition to the faculty and staff, there were also student groups such as My Brother's Keeper on hand to help parents navigate the campus.

The parents were to spend two hours following their particular child's schedule. We met with the teachers as a group and had a chance to live their day including the bell ringing. It was all an experience. So what bothered me?

The glaring absence of a lot of the black parents. There were some, "the choir" if you will who have always been there admonishing their children to get everything the school had to offer. What bothered me was that the ones who needed to be there, the ones who had kids either failing or close to failing, the ones who had kids in lower income situations who really need an education to get out, the ones who complain that the school doesn't care about black kids, they were missing.

I posed a thought, if you aren't at the table, you can't complain about meal.

Yesterday evening just cost me 3 hours of my time and the pain in my feet. My son was worth that and so much more. I wanted to know who was teaching him, what their background was, and just feel them out. It was just that important and even with him being a sophomore, I still guide him.

If parents are not willing to put time into their children's education by simply showing up at open houses, meet-the-teacher events, coffees, or parent-teacher conferences, how can they expect for their concerns to be heard? What is the problem? What was preventing them from coming? The teachers and administrators were accommodating to all the parents. The maps were given in great detail to navigate the campus, everything was set.

President Obama made a point that no matter how good the programs are or even new programs developed, if the parents are not involved, it won't make a difference. Only a parent can tell a kid to turn the TV off, turn off the games, come home on time, open the books, sit down and study. Only a parent can make sure the child has a good breakfast (whether providing it at home or filing out the papers for the free or reduced breakfast at school). Parental involvement will always be the key to student achievement.

The absence also bothered me because there is a vocal opposition in this little town that is always wanting to fight anything the school does in terms of black children. Fine, keep the fire of change going but also admonish the parents you are trying to benefit to do their part. It is really hard to make a case for more black teachers or more black subject matter in social sciences or English if the feet are not under the desk.

I stand on one of my main talking points when it comes to education, the parents have to decide it is important enough. Libraries are free. You can be poor and go to the library, get a library card, and read a book. St. Louis is rich in reading materials with the St. Louis County Library branches, the St. Louis Public Library, and all the municipalities in the surrounding counties having their own little library. Kirkwood, Oak Bend, and the Headquarters are all near Kirkwood and Meacham Park. It only takes a minute to get there and sit down, read a book. If a child can not do the basics, they can not think critically or even begin to challenge the curriculum.

Last night was an experience for me as sophomore parent. I was wide eyed with wonder last year when my last son officially entered the high school as a member of the class of 2012. This year I was more knowledgeable, knew his grade level administrators, and came with an expectation that they were going to teach my son regardless of his racial background. It was the expectation I presented to them, after all, they work for me. I was not disappointed. Each of his teachers seemed to know that I meant business when it came to his education.

Something else that struck me as I navigated the halls and saw the sea of faces. I was the only or one of only two black parents in all his classes. I asked him later if there were any black kids in his honors chemistry or honors sophomore literature and composition classes. He said one or two. It made me wonder again.

The school year is still new and the opportunities for parents to get involved are still present. It is not too late to make a change. A parent can decide that this will be the year that they will help their student achieve their best. Feet under the desk truly does equal knowledge in the brain.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Passing The Torch and Taking Up The Cause

The death of Senator Edward M. "Teddy" Kennedy rests heavily on my mind this morning.

I think it is hitting me that an entire generation is leaving us. His sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, passed away two weeks ago. Michael Jackson died two months ago today. Senator Kennedy spoke so powerfully, hopefully, and eloquently, despite his failing health, just one year ago today. Life, time, generations are fleeting.

Senator Kennedy had been a force in the U.S. Senator for longer than my 45 years. I essentially grew up hearing his Boston accent, seeing that signature head of thick hair, and coming to love him for how much he reminded me of my dad. My father was a few years older than Senator Kennedy. They both had that deep, commanding voice, that head full of thick hair, that fuller than life face, those strong shoulders to hold up the cause of their lives. I miss them both.

One of the things that Senator Kennedy fought for his entire life was health care as a right and not a privilege. I learned that even as the final days were approaching him, he was seeking the legislature in Massachusetts to change the law and appoint a senator in his place. Health care was such a passion for him.

I think it is in light of his obviously missing voice in the entire health care debate, the fact that he was from diagnosis to death in just over a year, and that my father waged a lifelong, historic battle against chronic illness, that this is all hitting me right now. I can not believe that members of the ruling class (corporate america) is so insensitive that they would wage a campaign against health care reform in such a mean and vicious manner. It is the issue of our generation.

During the Democratic National Convention, Senator Kennedy made an unexpected appearance and delivered such a strong, hopeful, and prophetic speech. He said the torch has been passed to a new generation. It has and it is our time, the time of our children, to say NO to corporate greed and profits while men, women, and children sit dying unnecessarily. Health care is just as important as breathing.

Sadness envelopes me like the mist rising off Nantucket Sound in his beloved Hyannas Port. I feel a shift and I hope that we, the collective we, wake up. The Lion of the Left is no longer roaring in the voice of advocacy, but many voices can take up the roar and get our legislature to do the right thing. In his death, I hope the country will realize what he fought so much for in his life, health care for all is life for all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thinking About Moving Day

Moving is an opportunity to review, reflect, and renew.

We spent the afternoon negotiating between bigger bedrooms and closets or bigger bathrooms and kitchen. We looked into nooks and crannies, opened doors, measured, walked, contemplated, all in the quest to find the next place to live.

St. Louis has been our home for the last couple years. We looked at everything from lofts in downtown to condos in Chesterfield. We explored Lafayette Square, the Central West End, Tower Grove/Shaw Park, and various West County Suburbs all in that hunt for the perfect location.

There is no perfect location. Moving is a series of negotiations between those things we absolutely need in a residence/location versus the things we want. It becomes a check and balance along with the review of all the stuff we own.

Moving is not fun for all the work required to pack and sort, label and tape, lift and load. It is a process that needs muscle, brains, creativity, and lots of energy bars. I am not looking forward to the daunting task.

I sat down this morning to sip my Burundi press and tried to envision my girls in a different bedroom, coming down for cereal in a different kitchen. What is it about change that excites us and fills us with trepeditation?

Tomorrow is decision day. We found a great townhouse that has a lot of amenities. The bathroom in the master is too small but the pragmatic Navy son told me we don't need that much room to shower! My Mocha Mom sister told me to opt for the house with the bigger kitchen and bathrooms despite the small closets. Maybe the small closets will encourage my husband to part with his blue jeans from college that have a resting place in our garage.

Moving day is a time to review, reflect, and renew. Perhaps like the coming fall, it is our opportunity to take on the new and explore life from a different vantage point.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It Came Too Soon

I thought I would be running through the house doing the happy dance or going our for a latte or singing at the top of my lungs, but I am not doing any of that. Back-to-school came sooner than I thought.

This morning, I put my last child on the bus. She broke a tradition of me taking my children to school. She wanted to be a "bus stop girl" with the rest of the neighborhood. This year there was a little kindergarten boy who busted up the pink princess parade.

The girls woke up at 3am, too excited to sleep. They joined me down in the family room full of excited chatter about school. My baby girl even did a couple pages of her phonics. The big sister pointed out all the important things she would learn in kindergarten, I just wanted sleep. They eventually dozed off.

6:30am found them wide awake and raring to go. They dashed off to take morning "wake up" showers and put on their clothes that were carefully chosen a week ago. The second grader took special care to decide on her "look" now that she is a big kid. I could just smile and shake my head. It wasn't until the youngest was getting her hair combed that she laid her head on my lap, silently mourning her passing babyhood and quietly contemplating this big step in her life.

The high schooler, on the other hand, slept all night, having suffered through reading for Honors English during the last week of summer vacation. He just wanted to get it over with. I think he was nervous though because I didn't have to prod him out of bed at 6am. He changed his shirt three times before deciding on his studious sophomore look.

Ultimately, all the children had a successful start with backpacks and lunches ready. They were optimistic and enthusiastic about learning, that made me smile. The beginning of school is like a new beginning, a blank sheet of paper. I'm waiting to find out what my kids write!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thinking About Back-To-School

The summer program has ended and the lure of colorful pencils looms ahead.

The back-to-school season is in full swing. I am collecting ideas, watching my children sleep late, and awaiting August 19th when for the first time in five years, my mornings will be completely kid free. What will I do with the time?

I was the Program Director for SPROG, Inc. this past summer. It was a great experience being the principal of a summer school. The kids all wove their way into my heart and are permanently sewed in. I am already planning great things for next summer when the program turns 40.

Even as I sit in the quiet of my SPROG office and finish up the remaining paperwork, listening intently to the still halls that once were full of 60+ youth voices, I wonder about the next phase. My son will be a sophomore at the high school, my baby will start morning kindergarten, and my other daughter will be in second grade.

There are parts of my year that are already taken up with helping my son navigate honors English and honors Chemistry. I think I better stock up on the Burundi and vanilla syrup, many sleepless nights are in my future. My baby girl is excited about being one of the bus stop girls and my other daughter is planning her fashion debut as one of the big kids. What will their mother do?

I am working on a middle school/young adult novel. The character, Hortence Owensby, just won't leave me alone. Perhaps she and I will spend some quality time together this school year as her story unfolds. I am also continuously adding pieces to my creative writing and poetry blog, Pink Latte Publishing, and I think I will just sit back and finish a book.

There sits on my desk at home a stack of books that I have been too busy to read this summer. The promise of a few quiet hours in the morning, sipping a nice cup of French Press, and traveling back in time through literature all sounds like a fulfilling fall.

Yes, as the cut-with-a-knife air of St. Louis ushers in August, as my wedding anniversary happens today, and as school shopping will consume my weekend, I think I will just take a moment and relax. The quiet will only be mine for a moment. Guess I better enjoy it all.