In this post, I discuss the observations that I have made while volunteering at my daughter’s school. Some of the observations were disturbing, some disheartening, and just plain frightening to me, not only as a mother, but someone relatively new to the “public school system” in New Orleans. I’ve been in the unique situation to speak to both teachers and parents about the apparent disconnect between school, staff, parent, and child and really wanted to do something about it¹ and I created a proposal to start a Parent Association at my daughter’s school. I even volunteered my efforts to its creation and implementation.
I spent a great deal of time researching urban education models and parent associations and the comparisons of a parent association to the PTO/PTA model. I also spend a great deal of time researching the effectiveness of parent associations, particularly in urban communities and in communities that are under-funded, unfortunately something that generally goes hand-in-hand. This isn’t a concept new to the school, as it was mentioned previously by a school social worker and the principal to meet with them about getting this going. Currently, our school has nothing – no PTO, no parent association, nor a parent teacher liason that actually does their job. ²
I received a response yesterday denying the creation of my proposed parent assocation. I was told that an administrator would have to be involved and that currently, the school was not ready for this internally.
You have a parent here who is trying to make a difference in your school, reduce the complaints of staff being over-worked, and helping parents, teachers, and students be on the same path for a better education and you are denying the creation of such a powerful tool? Come again? It has nothing to do with budget. This parent association wouldn’t require one single cent of the school’s funding.
My proposed parent association would not be a fund-raising effort. There needs to be a base of support outside of school administration for parents and children before fund-raising could even be considered, and in an urban area full of crime like New Orleans, I don’t think selling candy bars is really a great idea. That point was met with agreement, actually. Essentially, the proposal included real support for students and teachers like a homeroom parent³, school-wide newsletter produced regularly informing parents on important things like days off from school well in advance, progress the school is making, and upcoming events. Currently, parents are given a note a few days before school is scheduled to be out, the date of LEAP test hasn’t been communicated, and we have no idea why there are people walking around the school with blue prints and visitor passes. Weekly newsletters from teachers letting parents know what will be expected for homework the coming week, so there can be no excuses of not knowing what the homework assignments are for, or letting parents know of class achievements and recognition of students doing well that week. If it were not for the fact that I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, I would not know most of the children in her class. Quite frankly, I believe that is tragic.
Small steps that could mean so much.
Do schools REALLY want parents to get involved, as they cheer-lead in orientations before school starts, or do they really want to be in charge of it all and hope that parents will simply comply with the status quo?
School by Supertramp
1. Because I am foolish and have this whole save the world to make it a better place complex.
2. The same staff member I talking about smacking her child aside the head.
3. Something the school sent sign up forms for in September and have yet to do anything about the information they collected.
Elizabeth Wurtzel annoys me. Really, she just does. Right now I am sentenced to reading each of her books and to get through them has been a pain-stakingly difficult process. I just want to tell her to buck up, make better decisions, and quit action like she is the voice of my generation because, dammit, she is not MY voice, nor is she or was she ever the voice of my friends. Excuses, excuses. That is all that I am reading. Someone needed to really hand her a life where she didn’t have the opportunity to make excuses, but had to be busy living so she could survive. It isn’t that I don’t understand mental health or mental illness or addiction. I DO. It’ s just every book, every essay, and every article is the exact same thing.
Yes, I am over-dosed on Elizabeth Wurtzel at the moment.
Class today was great. The kids were so excited to see me today and gave me a great welcome back. I helped them with geometry, learning about symmetry, and did some correction of English – work on commas. I leave the classroom with a full heart, despite some of the difficulties and problems I witness, I always do. I am excited to go back tomorrow. Tomorrow is creative writing.
I thought it was interesting that the kids were talking about the murder of Wendy Byrne. Half the class is split that the parent’s turned the children in because it was the right thing to do, the other half believed the parents were sick of dealing with the children and didn’t want them anymore so that is why they turned them in. I think that is interesting, though I am too tired to look at what that really means. Another interesting thing happened today. My daughter came up to give me a hug and one of her classmates that has taken a particular shining towards me asked, “Do you guys do that a lot? Hug?” I told him that yes we do. He then told me that his family doesn’t. That broke my heart. I told him that my family wasn’t very affectionate either, which is why I make sure I am affectionate with my children. I told him that he would have to make sure he did that with his kids. He said he was never going to have kids, not with how crazy the world was. I thought that was very astute from a nine year old, and a bit sad, too.
I am reading a book on human trafficking written by Linda Smith, who served in the U.S House of Representatives for Washington state, and founded of Shared Hope, International. Shared Hope, International is an organization founded to fight human trafficking, being inspired by a trip to India and seeing young girls caged up and sold for sex. Her organization has done a lot of work. In reading the book, a short little number, it is difficult not to cringe as she describes what she has seen. If you can get past the calling-from-God-isms that she writes about here and there in the book, I suggest going to the Shared Hope website and request your free copy. More needs to be done. I am currently reading more about human trafficking in the United States, particularly in Louisiana, and the things that I am learning – it is disgusting that people are treated this way.
My daughter was very sweet tonight and left a card on my bed for me. It was a thank you card and inside she wrote:
“Mom, Thank you for loving me so much and everything you do from cheering me up to making me smile. I love you like a puppy and will take care of you every day. Love E”
I totally needed that tonight, as I was a tad bit cranky. I have the best daughter. I really do.
I love New Orleans. The REAL New Orleans. The New Orleans that you don’t see on Girls Gone Wild Mardi Gras or any snapshot taking by a bunch of sorority girls on Spring Break hitting up Bourbon. I love the New Orleans that represents strength, pride, tradition. I like the New Orleans that fosters creativity, that holds the Audubon Park and Zoo, that makes up City Park. I love the shotgun houses, the slave shakes, and the fact that on Fat Tuesday, every single business is closed. I love the New Orleans that represents good people, hard working people, people who love and live.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t see much of that New Orleans right now. This is probably my own fault, still adjusting to life in the Big Easy, life away from my small pond in small Wisconsin where I was a rather big fish. It is really different. Very different. And, unfortunately, I haven’t fully allowed my roots to plant deeply in the ground, wander too far away from my home Uptown. And I allow myself to read nola.com – the comments, the stories, the articles – and it makes me very, very afraid. This isn’t to say New Orleans is a bad place to live. Again, I love New Orleans – it just scares the hell out of me.
Maybe it is because I haven’t allowed myself much time to really get to know New Orleans outside of my comfort zone, to meet people, to make friends, to get involved. Maybe it is becaus I don’t know how I get involved or where to even start. I would love to be able to feel comfortable going out for the night with my husband, hanging out at Carrollton Station or Maple Leaf Bar or adventuring out to some other part of town and taking in a play or seeing an art exhibit. What stops me from doing this? Well, I can count on my hand the number of people I know in this city,not related to my occupation, and I couldn’t ask any of these people to please watch my daughter for the night. It is a cycle for me, you see, and one that I find plenty of excuses to keep running in circles.
Maybe it has to do with being mugged at 4:00 in the afternoon, walking my daughter home from school on Carrollton Avenue. Or maybe it has to do with going to bed, looking out the window, and seeing someone on my porch, attempting to still my plastic lawn chairs that I bought for $4 each at Dollar General. Or maybe it is the comments made to me when I pick my daughter up from her publis school. Or maybe I am just not cut out to live in the city, any city. I have developed the coping skills for living in a city, especially this city. But I love this city. I really do.
Do you see the battle that is constantly raging inside of me?
No, let’s not.
Yes, I need to get out of here.
No, you don’t – this place is your home, remember how you felt driving into the city with your possessions packed in your car, excited?
But that was before the crime.
Crime is everywhere.
But not like this!
In some places it is worse, you don’t know what you are getting into.
Someone was murdered near my home.
Her son did it.
You can’t count on the police.
Avoid situations where you need the police.
People die in the jails here! People are beaten!
I can’t argue with that. That is very true.
It is like having two people inside my body- one going to the right, the other to the left – ripping me entirely in half. In some ways, it feels like being locked away in a prison, almost afraid to leave your home, no matter at what time of day.
Am I being over-dramatic?
That is entirely possible. It really is. I am from an unincorporated town in Wisconsin. I milked cows, fed chickens, and took care of rabbits growing up. We left our doors unlocked. We rode our bikes after dark. Our neighbors knew one another, looked out for one another, and cared when things happened.
So, New Orleans, how do I embrace you – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and fully bloom where I am planted, without the whispers in my ear of Hammond or Robert or Baton Rouge? How do I walk outside, not afraid, and explore?
Probably one step at a time. Courtwatchers. Maybe a book club. Perhaps starting a writing club. Something. Anything.
New Orleans, I so want to call you home, but at what cost?
My piece-of-mind? My daughter’s education?
I really don’t know the answer, but feel much better saying it out loud than keeping it buried inside.
My heart is in this city, but it is held prisoner by the thug mentality. In that respect, the fear of my safety and that of my child, they win.
They fucking win.