Mom Congress: Lesson Plan for Change
Find out how you can be a part of the education reform movement and improve local schools
STEP 1: BUILD YOUR CASE
So you have a problem with your child's school. It's easy to wait around for someone else to notice and take action. But you're a passionate mom, too, and don't want that to happen after your child has moved on. You need to get the ball rolling now -- change always takes time.
- First, identify your goal: Let's say your school's playground has outdated equipment that may be inadequate for the number of students or even dangerous. Worse yet, maybe your school doesn't even have a playground. You want to find funding to build a state-of-the-art outdoor play space that will not only be fun for the kids, but also get them moving. And that, in turn, will keep them healthy and therefore will help them learn.
- Form a strategy team: Start talking about your concern with your immediate circle of parents and get them on board with your ideas. Think about who your "heavy lifters" could be -- the parents who will be willing to not just sign a petition but really spend time on your cause. Is there someone who's good at and enjoys social media? How about an artistic mom who would be willing to design posters and flyers? Someone who knows how to write grant letters that could help secure funding for your new playground? Perhaps most important, who will be your spokesperson? Maybe it's you, but maybe it's someone else who has experience as a persuasive speaker and enjoys taking center stage.
- Do your research: To convince your school board that your cause is a critical one, you'll need studies and statistics and personal stories from parents and kids to back up your idea. Reach out to specific advocacy groups that have information on the importance of recess and how it impacts learning. KaBoom, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating new play spaces in communities that lack them, is one such group. SafeKids USA is another that will have lots of background on safe play structures and practices. Perhaps there is a local pediatric practice or children's hospital concerned about childhood obesity that would be willing to back your campaign. And don't forget about your local community leaders: Maybe that playground could be used as part of a summer camp program that would benefit others in the town.
Next, do some number crunching: How much would your new playground cost? Get a copy of your school budget and analyze it for possible funds. Who might be willing to contribute to your cause: That children's hospital? Your town council? How about a local builder? What would construction costs typically run, and is there a contractor who may be willing to donate his time or at least do the work for less than the going rate?
Finally, consider the opposing viewpoint: Why wouldn't your board want to build a new playground? How will you convince them otherwise? If it's a matter of money (and almost everything is), will you be able to secure enough without dipping into the school budget?
- Work together with your group to create a mission statement: a brief but formal description of your goal that will provide a sense of direction for your cause and guide decision making. For example:
"Our mission is to build a fun and safe state-of-the-art playground for the students of Lincoln Elementary School and the surrounding community. Our goal is to the raise the necessary funds and secure approval to begin construction by the summer of 2011, so that the playground will be completed by the opening of school in September."
- Develop an elevator pitch: If you had to explain your cause and convince someone of its importance of while riding in an elevator, what exactly would you say? Could you make a convincing case in only two minutes? For example:
"Do you realize that students at Lincoln Elementary don't get outdoor recess because the playground is unsafe? It was built in 1972, and the principal is concerned that somebody could get hurt on the dilapidated equipment. Unfortunately, research shows that no recess means not only no exercise for these kids, but that their grades are likely to drop a full ten points. We've formed a committee that's working toward securing funding for a new playground. Would you sign our petition or attend our meeting this Tuesday evening?"
- Lobby your principal, teachers, and district superintendent. The support of your school leaders will be an important component when you present your case to the school board. In addition, they may know of other people or groups in your school community who are interested in the same cause and with whom you can join forces.