It's a Week Off!

Okay, I'll be totally honest: I thought this week was going to suck. A couple of days off from school can be fun but two weeks? I was sure that the kids would implode from boredom.

And here's the weird thing: they didn't.

It's actually been a great break so far. Rather than plan days and days of nonstop activities (our regular plan), we've scheduled our fun in small doses. We've taken a few trips into Center City and stopped by the arboretum. But other than that? It's been home with friends and family - and even some snowball fights with the neighbors. We've played some games, read some books and yes, even watched some TV (I can admit it).

I've learned something from all of this. Kids don't need to be "on" all of the time. A little down time is a good thing. And it's possible (gasp) that this means that my kids will be well rested come next week and ready for school.


Last Day Before the Break

Wednesday is the last day before the holiday break. It couldn't come at a better time.

I have one child who is out sick this week. I have another who is struggling in her class.

We need a break in the biggest way.


School Open on Tuesday

I just received the following notice:

All School District of Philadelphia schools will be OPEN on Tuesday,
December 22, 2009 at their regular times.

The opening of schools means the District's Office of Transportation
Services will provide yellow bus service to public, charter, private
and parochial schools on December 22, but parents should be prepared
for delays in morning pick-up and afternoon drop-offs as a result of
traffic conditions throughout the Philadelphia region.

All School District of Philadelphia after-school activities,
including sporting events, scheduled to take place on December 22
will go on as scheduled.

Employees are expected to report to work at their regular times. All
Regional Offices and the School District of Philadelphia's Education
Center (440 North Broad Street) will also be open on December 22 at
their regular times.

No School Today

Due to the weather, there's no school today. Schools will be open on tomorrow.


No School Tomorrow

KYW is reporting that there will be no school in Philadelphia tomorrow.

It's actually good news. SEPTA is a mess.


There's Music in the Air!

I've been so busy that I forgot to mention how excited I was about my kids' holiday concert! In a word: awesome.

Our school cannot afford a full time art teacher but has managed to hire a full time music teacher. I can't stress enough how wonderful I think this is.

My kids love music. Heck, I think all kids love music. And every school should have a music program.

Music reaches across cultures. It reaches across races and economics and religions. My daughter, who is not Jewish, knows more about Hanukkah than I do - because of music. She has now performed two Hanukkah songs in concert. She has also learned songs about Kwanzaa, as well as Christmas (no Eid songs, but then she already knows about Eid from family).

The thing that struck me most about the concert, though, wasn't the variety of songs - or even the level of performance (which was terrific). It was that every kid on that stage, no matter what age, seemed to be really, really enjoying what they were doing. There was such joy, such excitement, from all of the kids. It was really inspiring.

My good friend who came along, who doesn't have kids, dabbed at her eyes and said to me, "Okay, now I'm seriously going to cry."

Me too. It was that wonderful.

Let's do everything that we can to keep arts and music in our schools.

Parent Teacher Conferences and Report Cards

This week was Parent-Teacher Conference week at school. During conferences, report cards are distributed and you have a few minutes to talk with your child's teacher about the year.

A few minutes.

Conferences are scheduled 10 minutes apart. Just 10 minutes to talk about the entire year so far. It's not much time.

One of my girls had terrific marks and excellent behavior. The conference was a breeze.

The other had terrific marks - but a behavior issue. And 10 minutes isn't much time to have that conversation.

I'm conflicted because I understand that the time that teachers have to discuss issues with parents is limited. But I also understand that communication is so important. 10 minutes just isn't much time.

Another parent standing outside of the school had the same experience. Literally grabbed a report card and got a "he's doing great!" from one teacher. But her other child had some serious issues that needed to be addressed. And she only had 10 minutes.

You're supposed to be able to discuss your kids outside of those times by making appointments to see teachers. But not all teachers are as accessible as others. And so far, it's been my experience that the ones that make themselves the most accessible aren't the ones that I need to see.

We're trying to sort out all of the information that we received (as limited as it is) and make some decisions over the break. I just wish we felt like we had more time to talk with the teacher.

(BTW, the principal is a whole other story. At our school, the principal is always available.)


Are My Kids Safe?

I've always said that my biggest concern about moving my kids from private school to public school was whether they would be safe. That's it. I don't think they need Latin in the 1st grade or the college level Calculus classes in the 5th grade. And while they need an attractive campus, the lack of an oak tree or two (while more would certainly be desirable) doesn't mean that they are learning any less.

But I won't budge on the safety issue.

Last week, on December 3, at South Philadelphia High School, all hell broke loose. There were reports of at least five separate attacks inside the school, resulting in at least seven students being taken to the hospital.

The reported reason? Racially motivated attacks. Only probably not what you're thinking. It was actually African American violence on Asian students.

District spokeman Fernando Gallard says that the district has increased the number of school and city police at the school and around it.

But students and parents don't think that is enough. They claim that there is a history of violence and racial tension at the school. As a result, this week, about fifty Asian students have boycotted school.

The response from the School District has been disappointing. I am extremely concerned about how much time has passed since the attacks and Dr. Ackerman's public comments on the matter. It gives the impression, fair or not, that this incident is not a priority for her - or that perhaps they're hoping that this will just all fade away.

As a parent, that gives me serious pause.

When kids go to school, they should expect to feel safe every single day. No exceptions.

And teachers and administrators should clearly send the message to kids and parents that it's what's supposed to happen every single day. No exceptions.

But that's not the message that we're getting here. We're getting conflicting messages about violence statistics at the school (from "but really, it's better!" to "er, maybe not") - statistics that, at the end of the day, won't explain away bruises on a high school kid. We're hearing racial platitudes but no indication that there's a real commitment to ending the hate (don't get me started on how it's clearly been lost that our community is a mix of races).

I am looking forward to Dr. Ackerman's statement today - I hope that it goes beyond the planned "diversity committee" and reflects an action plan. Without action, committees and speeches are worthless. And our children don't deserve that.


The Infamous Take-Home Folder

I'm a big fan of the take-home folder. At our school, and I assume district-wide, students take home a folder midweek. On one side, there are papers to be reviewed, usually signed, and returned. On the other side, there are papers for parents.

It's a great system, when it works.

Today, a parent complained to me that the teacher in her child's classroom had not sent home the folder in more than a month. Since it is a weekly occurrence in both classrooms for my girls, I found this a bit surprising. I would think that a parent would have asked the teacher at some point, but I guess that didn't happen.

What that did drive home for me, though, was how much I rely on those weekly folders. While I do subscribe to school and district email (but not the robo-calls), the folders do a better job of keeping me up to date about what's happening this week. It helps us stay a bit organized. And it helps avoid episodes like today when other parents were under the misimpression that it was an early dismissal - an older calendar had never been replaced in some classrooms.

I'm sure the district spends millions of dollars trying to improve its communications with parents. And I do love email and web updates - they're quick and convenient.

But a take-home folder? Brilliant in its simplicity.