As Co-President of the Parent’s Association at my daughters’ NYC public school I spend a lot of time focusing on what’s not working at our school, the district, the city and the state levels. Over the summer my Co-President and I spent hours pouring over the budget cuts and the implications on our school. We had emergency meetings with administration and teachers to figure out what to do and we were all pretty frustrated and defeated. It wasn’t a great way to start the school year.
However, a month into the school year I realized that focusing on all of the negatives and the endless disappointments resulted in making our most active parents want to give up. We took a step back and forced ourselves to acknowledge our achievements as parent advocates. We have brought chess, healthy school lunch, yoga, art, a hand chimes program, assemblies, science kits, and a garden for our teachers to our school over the last few years. All of these were parent initiatives that the administration embraced and helped make real. No small feat, any one of them.
But, with all of this work and incredible volunteer power there remains an underlying desire to not only do more, but engage more, understand more, feel more part of the decisions being made that affect our kids everyday. This year we have seen a new Chancellor attempt to reach out in a more consistent and open way. He’s held town halls and has a staff that seems to want to listen – or least hear – what parents have to say. Don’t’ get me wrong – there is a long way to go – and parents are often not invited to the grown-ups table, or are there as a token only. Yet, there at least seems to be a glimmer of genuine desire to include parents in larger discussions.
I hope these changes in attitude at the NYC Department of Education continue and become more than just show. However, I’m not relying on it. The work we have to do as parents is to keep vigilant and keep asking questions – constant, annoying, nagging questions that make officials uncomfortable and let them know we’re paying attention – at every level. In our Parent’s Association we are asking these questions. Now we just need more and more parents to do the asking, everywhere, all the time.
Rebecca Levey writes about education, technology, culture, social media and more at Beccarama.com. She is the Co-founder of KidzVuz.com, a video sharing site for tweens where they create reviews about the stuff they love in a completely safe, moderated space. As a lifelong New Yorker, Rebecca is happy to be raising her daughters in NYC and volunteering as Co-President of the PA at their large public school where she spends way too much time and tries not to embarrass her daughters too much.