“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . but the world may be different . . . because I was important in the life of a child.”

~ Forest E. Whitcraft

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When Schooling Takes Precedence Over Learning

Is schooling really about learning? (Gerd Altmann/Pixabay)

Schools are designated as places of learning, but sometimes it seems that other things seem to take priority. Like attendance policies. 

At our local high school, for example, a student with straight A's can be deprived of a place on the Honour Roll if she misses more than two days in any given term. It doesn't matter whether she's done all of her assignments and made up all the work she missed. Being sick for that third day disqualifies her.

How does that make sense?

Pennsylvania dad Mike Rossi has learned that attendance policies make little sense in his school district too. Last week he received a warning letter from the school principal, telling him that the three days his kids missed school to accompany him for a trip to run in the Boston Marathon, were unexcused absences. The letter implied that if the children missed too much school, the family would be investigated for truancy.

This despite the fact that his children had missed only one or two additional days, in the entire school year. And despite Rossi having told teachers all year that if he qualified for the marathon, he intended to take the kids along to Boston. The school had all year to warn Rossi about the policy that counts family trips as unexcused absences - and for that matter, all year to negotiate some way for the children to be evaluated in their learning experience - but not a word was said. The school didn't even raise the alarm when he emailed before the family left on their trip.

Am I the only one who wonders where the school's priorities are? It seems to me that this principal is more interested in covering her own hind quarters or in catching good parents breaking stupid rules, than in anything that truly impacts on the welfare or the education of these two little girls.

Rossi's reply to the principal mentions a long list of educational activities the children took part in while in Boston. Any one of these would make the perfect subject for an essay or research paper, which could stand as proof that the children learned something on their trip. Would it be so hard for the teachers to grade an essay, in order for the absence to be counted as excused? Were the educators even approached about the possibility?

I understand that a school district would be overwhelmed if every family decided to take a trip in the middle of the school year. It would disrupt learning in the classroom, and having to grade a constant stream of projects would place an undue burden on teachers.

That being said, it's not often that a parent qualifies for an event like the Boston Marathon. And obviously, the family can't just reschedule the trip to avoid conflicts with the school calendar. Mr. Rossi had given the school more than fair warning about the absence, and considering the kids' prior attendance record it should have been a simple matter to excuse such a short absence.

This truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and one that afforded these young scholars a valuable learning experience. Would it have hurt the school to get on board, and take advantage of the opportunity to turn a family vacation into a learning experience for the whole school?

The principal has requested a meeting with the family, and we can only hope she's come around since this tale of rigidity and intolerance has gone viral. Perhaps she'll realize the whole school can benefit from an inspirational talk delivered by someone who has run the marathon. Or she might see that the Rossi kids could create educational displays or presentations for their classmates. Or maybe she could simply offer to have the kids submit an essay for credit, this one time.

Parents of school-aged children, take note! If you are planning a family trip that might conflict with school, take the time to look into the school's policies. And be sure to negotiate with the school officials, well in advance of your departure date. Document all your exchanges, including any outlines of educational activities planned and any proposals for the kids to complete assigned or additional work while away.

It's sad to say, but you can't just notify the school and trust that everything is OK because nobody has said otherwise. These days, too many school officials prefer to take action against parents after an infraction is committed. It must seem easier than working with parents beforehand, in the best interests of the child.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Just Desserts: Going Without Shoes

Back before I had kids, a workmate was telling me how expensive it was to send her kids back to school. Even with both parents working for a decent wage,this family struggled to equip their three kids with backpacks, school supplies - and of course, shoes. The school demanded that each child have not one or two, but three pairs of running shoes.

One pair was for outdoor wear (to and from school, plus recess in the school yard.) Another pair was to be worn only in the gym, while a third pair was for the classroom. Really? Did kids seriously need to change shoes to go from the classroom to the gym?

A lot of people take shoes for granted, but parents know they don't come cheap. So it's probably not a stretch for most of us to identify with parents who can't afford to buy those three pairs of sneakers. And probably we can imagine being the parent who maybe can't afford the rain boots or the winter boots, when the time comes for that.

But can we imagine not being able to afford shoes at all?

I personally love to go barefoot whenever I can, but even I appreciate having proper footwear when it's needed. Honestly, even though intellectually I can grasp the fact that many people in the world can't afford shoes, I still have trouble imagining what it must be like to live in a place where this is a common concern.

But it is a reality in many developing countries, and not having shoes to wear is at the root of a number of health risks. Luckily, there are movements afoot (pardon the pun!) that help to raise  awareness about the large number of people around the world who can't afford shoes, and to find ways of providing them with shoes.

This week, TOMS Campus Club marked One Day Without Shoes to educate college students about the issues, and to raise funds for the donation of shoes. There is also a global event that will take place on May 21, 2015. The idea is to spread awareness by going barefoot, and by distributing literature or creating displays, that educate the public about the need for affordable footwear. And TOMS backs that up with their One for One program, which helps one person in need every time someone buys one of their products.

 If you want to get involved, but there are no events near you, there are always opportunities to donate locally.

Most of us have a closet full of kids' shoes and boots that have been worn a few times and then promptly outgrown. Today is the perfect day to sort through them!

Think about your own shoes too. How many shoes do you have that you've never worn? How many that you haven't worn in at least six months, and probably won't wear again in the near future? Set aside anything in good shape that you aren't using.

Where to donate your shoes in your area?
  • Ask if your local school can get shoes to a child who needs them.
  • Donate shoes to local women's shelters, emergency shelters, or clothing rooms.
  • Drop shoes off at a charity thrift shop.
  • Look for a charity that supplies women in need with business attire for job interviews and re-entry into the workplace. Shoes are an integral part of proper business wear.
  • If a local group is collecting prom wear for students in need, take them your fancy shoes. Every young student deserves to feel like a princess - or a prince - from time to time!
Even if you have no used shoes to donate, you can still pitch in. Next time you buy a pair of shoes, pick up a second pair to donate.

If you're concerned the shoes might not fit or the style won't be right, pick up a gift card instead. This is an especially good idea if you are putting together Christmas baskets or filling backpacks with school supplies or personal hygiene products.

Gift cards allow recipients to choose their own shoes and be sure of a good fit. You may even be able to get the gift cards at a reduced cost if your organization plans to include one in each package they assemble.
    This content is copyrighted, and is adapted from an earlier work by the author. Please feel free to share by sending others a link to this page, or contact the author about purchasing reprint rights.