Thursday, August 3, 2017

Month 8 of 48: SCHOOLS!

At its core, my activism is a result of my frustration with the mess that our children are on track to inherit. I worry that they’ll be the first generation in modern history that will be moving backwards in all of the wrong ways. My 2am anxiety spiral can take me to a place where my adult children and their families are fighting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world that is a cross between Mad Max,  The Handmaid’s Tale, and Jurassic Park.  (Hey, this is MY anxiety spiral and sometimes it inexplicably involves dinosaurs coming back to life, don’t judge). As a result of this anxiety for our children, I feel compelled - REQUIRED - to seek out solutions that help them prepare for what comes next.

Therefore for Month 8, as we all begin to say good-bye to summer, Jacki and I would like to do something a little differently.  We want to spotlight SCHOOLS! Yes, it’s a very broad topic and in Flagstaff we have so many excellent choices on our menu.

Full disclosure, I am the Director of a small Charter school in Flagstaff, the Haven Montessori School. Jacki and I know that  “the charter vs district school debate” is a hot topic locally, state-wide and around the country right now.  WE AREN’T GOING THERE.  We want to celebrate our teachers, administrators and children as we move into the 2017-18 school year.  I firmly believe that the choices parents makes for their children are THEIR choices. Sometimes the school that was great for Kindergarten isn’t the right fit for 3rd grade. Sometimes teachers, parents, administrators, children or all of the above just don’t have good chemistry.  Sometimes kids need a fresh start for myriad reasons. On this page we are not going to judge parents or schools for the choices they make. 

In Flagstaff, there are a lot of really fantastic choices and when I talk to parents, I encourage them to look at all the options so they can truly assess what school is best for their particular child at that particular moment in time.  It can be overwhelming, and I do know that for some parents making the school decision is agonizing and very stressful. Here is what I would like you all to know. Children are tough. They are so much stronger, and infinitely more flexible, than most adults. With your love for your child driving your decision-making, you simply cannot go wrong.  If it doesn’t work, as Jacki likes to say, “Guess what, it’s still America (at least for now!) and you can change your mind.” YOU are doing a great job out there and YOU need to give yourself a break. Go get a glass of wine, you’ve earned it. (But come back and finish reading, please).

Here’s our plan for Month 8:

Jacki and I have asked friends and acquaintances from every school in Flagstaff to write about the school in their lives. We have parents, students and teachers writing about what makes their school amazing! We will feature a “school of the day” throughout the month of August. We encourage you all to chime in with comments when you see your school come up, and tell us what you love about it!

In the meantime… what’s our work for this month?  Y’all, the schools really need us.  Here are the action items we have put together for this month.  TIME TO GET BUSY.

CASH MONEY:  As someone who pours over budgets and bills for a school, I can tell you that things are not good right now. Funding is unpredictable and pots of money are quietly disappearing without notice. Supporting your child’s school financially is important. Consider a straight-up (tax deductible) cash donation that is eligible for the Public School Tax Credit program if you live in Arizona. These funds help the schools provide extras to your children in the form of field trips, after-school clubs and more. Also, you are diverting your tax payments from the crazy state of Arizona back to the place where your child spends the most time. Married couples can give up to $400 per year, single filers up to $200. I can tell you that every dollar matters, so please give whatever you can. Walk into school on the first day with your check and hand it over to the office. I promise they will remember this immediate show of good faith and support.

SHOW YOUR LOVE TO TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATION: It is very hard to hire and keep good teachers. They can go to another state (or city in AZ) and earn much better salaries and benefits. Teachers who choose to teach in Arizona are incredibly special humans. It is not easy for them, especially in Flagstaff. (housing costs, anyone?).  Make them feel your love.  Bring in an extra cup of coffee, a flower from the garden, a handwritten note, or send an email (please be sure to cc the principal) giving kudos. This will truly make someone’s day and honestly having a positive relationship with those who care for your children is a very good thing. Also parents you know I love you (I’m an NPA parent) but sometimes you can be truly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. We still love you, but consider counting to ten before storming the castle some days!  

VOLUNTEER: Every school has opportunities. Join the PTO or another committee. Ask your child’s teacher or an administrator what they need!  When the sign-up sheets come around, be sure to add your name somewhere.  Pick one small thing. It truly matters. You will receive the added benefit of getting to know the school faculty and staff, the culture of the school, the students, and parents.  Also, participate in the fundraisers in some way (see above). Either join the event committee, donate a raffle prize, attend the event, sell the Butter Braid, etc… this is important.  Find a way to help.

DONATION OF GOODS: Schools always need copy paper, paper towels, Ticonderoga #2 pencils, boxes of tissues, hand sanitizer, sharpies, and so much more. Trade credit at Bookman’s is also a very great thing to donate. I guarantee you, if you ask the school secretary “what is one thing I could bring every month that would help out” they can provide you with some ideas. This helps the school spend less money on overhead, and honestly, what’s an extra pack of tissues thrown in your shopping cart?

There are so very many ways you can contribute to your child’s school.  Oh and guess what? Don’t have children?  YOU CAN STILL HELP WITH ALL OF THE ABOVE! Help save the human race and planet earth.

The importance of improving our educational system cannot be understated. It is imperative that we provide our children with the academic tools they will need to solve the problems they are being handed. In addition to teaching them the basics, we also need to instill in them both creative and analytical thinking, the ability to resolve conflict peacefully, respect and empathy towards others, and the values of citizenship and social justice. Think of what we are asking of our schools.  It’s a lot.  How will you help?

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