Last night our Los Angeles mom blogger’s group, Moms LA, had a Twitter party with a focus on budget cuts in public schools. It quickly became obvious that the budget shortfalls are not only felt by public schools and the families who attend them, but also by families whose children go to private or parochial schools, and preschools too.
My overall consolation for all general talk of school malaise is the fact that our family was able to buy our way out of Los Angeles. We are in a different, smaller school district. That doesn’t mean that everything is free. We are encouraged to pay a certain amount to the Parent Faculty Association per child, in order to help fund the many programs and staff positions that the PFA pays for. We have to send school supplies not just for our children, but for everyone to share, including things like paper towels and tissues. Our assistance with our time, money, and savvy shopping skills is necessary. Without it, our students would have a pretty bare-bones school day of math and reading. The end.
In Kyle’s first grade class the students are split up into four groups four times a week. Who leads the groups? The teacher, an aide, and two parents. I am one of those parents, once a week. Luckily his class size is manageable, and the four groups gives the children even more attention. I watch their little faces as they concentrate on the task in front of them. They ask a lot of questions. They wiggle and squirm. Some of them are neat, some are messy. Some take longer than others. Some have no interest at all.
At the end of the first volunteer shift I was exhausted. “Welcome to my world,” said the teacher. She’s been teaching for decades and said she loves first grade. After one hour I needed a nap. I am clearly not meant for that job. But I know it means a lot that I show up once a week. All of the students in the class will benefit from the added attention, and my own child sees how engaged and interested I am. But on the flip side, I get to spy on him.
Had I not signed up for this volunteer position, I never would have known that Kyle was responsible for a major discipline issue that came up in the classroom, or that he is as “argumentative as a lawyer” in class. I wouldn’t see the routine of the room or the way each child knew exactly what to do when the recess bell rang. I wouldn’t have witnessed the children in the play yard: the ones who sat quietly by themselves or the groups that shrieked and ran in circles. I wouldn’t have seen Kyle wolf down half of his sandwich at 9:45 AM. My presence at the school is more valuable to me, I think, than it is to them.
Kyle is growing so quickly that I imagine his bones stretching in the night. He has strange days when he trips and falls over his own feet or legs. He bangs his hands on things, far down the ends of his long arms. I remember when I was pregnant my new wider body would bump into walls and counter tops, surprising me. That must be what it’s like to grow longer so fast.
His mind is soaking up information and skill just as quickly. He can read with alarming clarity. His handwriting, already so precise and articulate, is getting more daring. “I want to write like you,” he says, as he feigns cursive writing with a flourish. He tries to do his schoolwork his own way, coloring outside the lines, adding drawings or embellishments where none are required. I counsel him to play the game, do what’s expected of him at school. The fun part of learning isn’t just in c0mpleting the assignment, but to take what you’re learning and do something with it. Meanwhile, you’ve got to play the game.
Of course, school is, in many ways, entirely different now from when I was growing up and learning the game. Anything can be looked up on my computer or even on my phone. Questions that needed a trip to the library a generation ago can be answered in minutes. Even Brady has taken to pretending to look it up on his computer when I ask him something simple, like “What was the best part of school today?” The answer is usually “nothing.” It’s tough to get anything out of these kids.
Which is why I like volunteering in the classroom. It’s less about supporting the sagging budget and more about spying on my kid. I appreciate the clean, safe environment, and the way so many other parents are invested in the success of the school, too. I’m learning alongside my children. It’s only a matter of time before they know more than I do.