Friday, August 31, 2012

There's Good, and Then There's GREAT!

We went to Bug's Back To School night last Wednesday.  Ignoring the fact it was incredibly early to have a Back to School night (exactly 1 week into the new school year), we were both a bit shocked about the differences between Bug's school and Bunny's.

Let me stop here a minute and clarify that Bug's school, traditionally is a neighborhood school.  Meaning, the vast majority of the kids who attend school there, live nearby.  There are 14 neighborhood elementary schools here with two schools of choice.  A school of choice gives preference to the kids who live nearby, but the majority of the kids who attend come from outside the neighborhood via a lottery system.  Bunny goes to a school of choice.  In fact, Bunny goes to the same school that LW attended when she was in elementary school.  How's that for a circle of life?

On the very first day of school, we brought 1 box of tissues, 1 roll of paper towels, 1 container of wipes and 1 ream of printer paper to each of The Tweedles classrooms.  If you are unaware of the budget cuts across America that are effecting classrooms and schools, you've been living under a rock.  Schools are not only short the funds to properly staff their classrooms - resulting in larger and larger class sizes, but they're also losing funds for things like teacher / lunch / playground aides, supplies, playground equipment etc.  And most teachers, because they are truly awesome, are making up the differences out of their own pockets.  Yeah, you read that right.  Go hug a teacher right this second, and thank them for all they do!  We feel the least we can do is help offset some of the supply issues by donating these basics to each of the classroom.  And at least at Bunny's school, it's expected the families will help in this way.

Rewind to two years ago when Bunny was in Kindergarten.  Her teacher (WE LOVE YOU!), provided each of the kids with a supply box (which they got to decorate with their name and other glue on goodies - which she supplied I might add) that came with a box of crayons, a glue stick, pencils, and I think even scissors.  She also provided each of the kids with a blanket for "rest" time, that she called a burrito.  I don't remember why she called them a burrito, but I do remember that Bunny's was green with a ladybug on it. In fact, her burrito is sitting on her bed as I type this.  And that year, Bunny went on at least a half a dozen field trips and did a ton of outside the classroom activities that all culminated in an end of the year Luau.  The Kinder playground was well stocked with balls, sand toys, and play houses as well as the traditional playground equipment.  Her teacher had paper and supplies to make copies and outfit her classroom appropriately.  And she had a good supply of afternoon snacks and cleaning supplies on hand.  And she had a steady stream of parent volunteers to help out.

Now, most of these things came from donations, either from parents or from Donor's Choose.  If you don't know what Donor's Choose is, you should go check it out.  It's a place where teachers can set up their own grants and have people all across the country donate to it.  It's really a game changer.  She was also well supported by the PTA which fundraises to provide all the teachers with a specific classroom start up amount, a mid-year refresh amount, as well as funds for "experiential learning" which can be used to pay for a field trip bus or to have someone come to the classroom.

Now fast forward to last Wednesday.  Bug's teacher (who is amazing so far I might add - this is in no way a reflection on her!), informed us that there was no money in her budget for field trips.  NONE.  And asked for the traditional donations of wipes, tissues, paper towels, but also asked that we provide a water bottle for our Bug - she had already provided disposable water bottles for her class since the water fountain was so far from the classroom.  She asked for kick-balls and sand toys since the playground didn't have either.  She told us she's taking the kids to the bathroom every hour (all of the kids) or so, because the bathrooms are also so far away and she doesn't have any teachers aides to help her.  She has 23 kids in her class and she's all alone.  The kids all have to bring their own afternoon snack, which makes me wonder what happens when a child forgets theirs (like I'm remembering just now, we did this morning).    So in addition to the supplies we already donated, we also donated 2 kick balls this morning.  And if I had been able to find sand toys, we would have donated them too.  And now that I've remembered Bug's snack, we might donate one of those big costco sized boxes of goldfish too. I feel we might be giving a lot more this year to Bug's school, just to help bridge even some of the gap.

Honestly, the whole thing was pretty tragic.  And yet, I feel like this is more the norm and Bunny's school is the exception to the rule.  It's not as if Bunny's school is filled with more affluent parents.  In fact, Bunny's school is a Title 1 school which means at least 40% of the school population are from low-income families. Just like Bug's school.  I think the biggest fundamental difference between the two schools is parent involvement.  At Bunny's school we have such a high percentage of parents/families dedicated to the school and the kids.  Willing to donate the funds and time needed despite their own financial challenges and busy schedules.  And as a school of choice, you know going in that the school is a good one, and you feel compelled to do your part to keep it that way.

That isn't to say that Bug's school isn't a good school.  But it's the difference between being good and being great.  I'm even more grateful now for everything that Bunny's school is.  Grateful for the teachers and the parents, and the leadership that makes her school great.  And very thankful that next year, Bug will be there with her.

Seriously.. Thoughts?

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