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.

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