It’s the season for report cards and parent-teacher conferences. It’s also the time when parents may decide to confront problems their children are having in school. Or they may have come to the conclusion that their attempts to communicate with the school have just not been working.
Whether your child’s issues are emotional, physical, social, or academic, it’s not unusual for parents to become emotional and defensive when their children have a problem. One reason why your communication efforts may not be working is that school personnel may feel threatened and attacked by negative criticism. If you’re upset about something your child tells you, don’t jump to conclusions until you hear the other side. Try approaching school personnel in a respectful, calm and non-threatening manner by using an “I” message with the focus on meeting your child’s needs.
- Describe how the problem makes you or your child feel without being defensive. For example, say, “I feel helpless when my child comes home crying and tells me that children are making fun of her,” instead of, “What kind of uncaring teacher are you that you’re allowing all of the children to pick on my child?”
- Actively listen to what the professionals tell you, and then summarize, paraphrase, question, share information and brainstorm solutions. This is preferable to allowing yourself to become so emotional that you don’t listen and resort to yelling.
- Come to an agreement about a solution that meets your child’s needs. Remember it’s not about who is right or wrong. You want your child to be the winner. He’ll be the winner if school and home work cooperatively to help him succeed.
- If you’re still not satisfied, then bring additional people into the discussion. You may want to include your spouse or another relative to support you, and you may ask that the principal or assistant principal and/or the school counselor to join the meeting. Many schools have team meetings, where all the staff members who are involved with your child meet at once. You may ask to attend a team meeting.
- If you have totally exhausted all of the avenues at the school level, contact district administration.
About 15 percent of American households were living in poverty last year and that number is increasing as the median household income drops, according to newly released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
That means the official poverty rate has reached its highest level since 1993. That translates to a total of 46.2 million people – the largest number since the government began tracking poverty in the 1950s. And because the poverty level for a family of four begins with an annual income of less than $22,314, many experts believe that a family of four needs to make twice that to feel secure.
Unemployment is predicted to remain above 9 percent for the foreseeable future, and parents are increasingly concerned about expenses and inflation. In last May’s school budget vote, most districts mindful of taxpayers’ pocketbooks scaled back programs and cut staff to keep tax increases low.
But is public education really free? Just because parents pay taxes doesn’t mean they do not have to contribute to their children’s education. Here are some of the extras parents are typically paying for:
- School Supplies: The average parent spent $600 this year equipping their children with back to school clothing and supplies. Most schools prepared lists of essential school supplies that parents were required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these ranged from notebooks to laptops.
- Tissues: To save district funds, many elementary schools ask parents to send in boxes of tissues and other supplies for use by the entire class.
- School Spirit garments: T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc., are popular items at all levels. Students may be asked to wear these for special events at school.
- Musical instruments: purchase or rental
- Sports equipment and uniforms
- Field Trips
- Fundraising: School, PTA, Special Interest, e.g. sports, music, theater.
- Celebrations: birthdays, holidays, special events
What Can Parents Do?
- For back to school, PTAs can contract to provide boxed sets of school supplies by grade at a cost less than shopping for supplies on your own. The school will supply a list of school supplies by grade. For example, Staples does this through http://www.schoolkidz.com. Ask your PTA to investigate this money-saving option.
- Parents can lobby the principal or superintendent of schools and request that fundraising activities be reduced and consolidated. Parents may prefer to write one check for a set amount instead of being compelled into participating in a perpetual round of sales and fundraisers.
- If parents believe that the cost and incidence of field trips are excessive, parents have the right to question school’s field trip practices and ask that guidelines be established to limit frequency, distance, and cost per field trip, e.g. two per grade with a limit of $25. Also, parents should request that they be informed at the beginning of the school year of what their expenses will be for field trips.
- Request that your school limit expectations for children’s birthdays at school.
- Lobby to scale back spirit wear and unnecessary sports paraphernalia, such as sweatshirts and sweat pants. It’s hard to say no when everyone else is buying it and your child wants it too.
- Volunteer with your presence and skills at school and at special events and fundraisers instead of with your pocketbook.
- Parents should know that all schools provide help to families who cannot afford school-associated expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask your principal if you need financial assistance.
As I read and watched the September 11thanniversary coverage, I was brought back to that terrible day which transformed all of us forever.
My initial reaction when I learned a plane had hit the first tower was that I would know people who were in the World Trade Center – and I was right. Among the casualties was Andrew Zucker, a 27-year-old lawyer our family had known since he was six-years-old. His mother told me later that after having led members of his law firm to safety, he was going back to help more when the second plane hit and he disappeared. He left behind grieving parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends – and a pregnant wife.
That child, now almost 10 years old, innocently joined thousands of young and unborn children who lost a parent on 9-11. Not only did that terrible day change the lives of countless children and their families, but it also changed our schools.
At the time, I was working in the central office of the Smithtown Central School District, about 30 miles from Manhattan. Minutes after the first attack, I and the five other members of the superintendent’s cabinet were summoned to the office of Dr. Charles A. Planz, the superintendent of schools, to watch the ghastly events unfolding on TV and to discuss how we should handle the catastrophe. Dr. Planz ordered a lockdown of all schools and each of us was assigned to visit two of the district’s 14 schools.
I found panic as I drove up to the first school. Parents who had rushed to the school to take their children home, had congregated in the lobby waiting for their children to be released to them. Many had come to the school because cell phone service had been knocked out and they wanted to be with their children at this time of national crisis. As I circulated among the parents, one mother was crying and visibly shaken.
“My husband is a New York City firefighter,” she told me.
Only later as events unfolded did I realize the true import of her words – that her husband and other brave first responders had rushed into the burning Twin Towers without a moment’s hesitation, ultimately sacrificing their lives to save others. Her husband was one of several first responders and employees in the towers from the Smithtown community who died saving others on September 11.
So many things changed in our country’s schools after 9-11. Schools became better at communicating with parents through websites and automated phone messaging systems. Character education blossomed. The events of September 11 were taught and commemorated. Security guards and security cameras became commonplace. Policies were written, post-Columbine codes of conduct were amended, and rules were established that were unforgiving of prejudice and threats of any kind.
Time and again as the Hearing Officer in Superintendent’s Disciplinary Hearings, I had to explain to a student and his parents that although he had made what he insisted was an idle threat or even a joke, since Sept. 11 the school district was obligated to take it seriously and impose consequences.
But some things will never change, such as the memory of disbelief and horror that day evokes, the families and friends who lost loved ones in such a horrific way, and the unborn children who are now almost 10 years old. All parents have a basic and enduring instinct to protect and shelter their children from harm. When they send their children to school each day, they have implicit faith that their schools are their trusted partners in that essential endeavor.