Public School Is What You Make of It

Public Schools Week is March 12-16. Show your support for our nation’s public schools by sharing stories like the one below on how public schools have positively impacted your child’s life using #LovePublicEducation and #PublicSchoolsWeek.

On her first day of kindergarten, I dutifully loaded my precious five-year-old Ashley onto a big yellow bus to head to school. She was thrilled, carrying her new lunchbox and proudly showing off a backpack that was bigger than she was! She looked so small, and so brave, waving from the bus window. My eyes welled up with tears on the walk back to my house. When I walked inside I went straight to the envelope the PTA gave me to open when we attended orientation two days earlier. It said, “Open AFTER Your Child Leaves for School.” It was a bag filled with 3 things: a tissue, a tea bag and a cotton ball. The enclosed note read:

“Thank you for entrusting your child to us. We will do our best every day to keep them safe and help them grow in knowledge. After you have wiped your tears, make yourself a warm cup of tea. Hold the cotton ball in your hand and let it remind you of the gentle spirit of your child. We will be here to partner with you to grow them to their full potential.” The backside of the thoughtful note said, “volunteering in our school is a great way to be near your children.”

They didn’t have to ask me twice! If the doors were open, I wanted to be at the school—whether it was making copies, reading to different classes, playing on the ball field or serving as a lunch monitor. I quickly learned that lots of parents in my community felt the same way I did. There were so many parent volunteers at the school that they had to draw names for folks that chaperoned field trips and worked field day. PTA was booming there! I assumed every school was like that. I quickly learned otherwise.

For reasons too many and far too long ago to recount, my husband and I separated during Ashley’s kindergarten year. Our divorce was final that summer. We didn’t do everything right as divorced parents, but we both committed to ensuring that the girls knew they were loved and that this was not about them. At the beginning of each school year, I sent a note to the girl’s teachers, advising them that they lived with me, but that their Dad was an important and active part of their lives. They were free to contact either of us and were assured that any information given to one parent would be shared with the other parent. Their father and I attended teacher conferences together, and that shared commitment despite our divorce seemed to motivate the girls to excellence.

A couple years later, life changed. I met my husband, Jerry. When we decided to get married he wanted the girls and I to move to his home. That meant leaving the community where all our friends and neighbors were, and worse, it meant leaving the elementary school where the girls were thriving. I researched the school where they would relocate and didn’t see high test scores or graduation rates. There was also no evidence of a parent volunteer presence. I talked with Jerry about my concerns, and he said that if parent involvement was so important, an active PTA should be able to change everything.

He challenged me to practice what I was preaching and after our wedding, I enrolled the girls at their new school for the fall. Ashley was in the second grade, and Katie was beginning kindergarten. I started as a room mom and worked my way up to the President of their PTA. As I formed friendships with other parent volunteers, and the PTA grew in membership, I saw that school truly come to life! Parents filled the halls, and could be seen sporting spirit t-shits at every corner. We made community business partners and raised funds to compliment the learning in the kids’ classrooms. We built an outdoor classroom, supplied microscopes, hired the Chattahoochee Nature center to come do in class field trips about bats, echolocation, stalagmites and stalactites. We even helicopter-landed “Jake the Flying Tiger,” a beloved children’s book character, in for Read Across America week. The change was alive and evident. The results spoke not only in the test scores; the pride was evident in the community surrounding the school.

Both of my girls graduated at the top of their respective classes. While I am very proud of their accomplishments, I am even more proud of the network of love, support and encouragement that saw them through all their years at public school. More than money, that support network makes the biggest difference in the lives of our children.

Lisa-Marie Haygood is a member of the National PTA Legislation Committee.

Speak Your Mind