Category Archives: Kids and school

Whose Fundraiser Is It, Anyway?

I got out of bed this morning with feet that ached so badly, I had to “hobble” across the bedroom floor. Was it age finally setting in? No, just fundraiser burnout.  I worked 3 ½ hours yesterday morning at a drill team bake sale, 4 ½ hours in the afternoon at the elementary school carnival/auction, and an hour and a half selling “latecomer” tickets at a high school choir concert. I definitely wore the wrong shoes.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about fundraisers lately, and not just because my feet are screaming at me. In fact, every year, most parents mull the pros and cons of fundraising if they have children involved in anything outside of the family. Scouts, sports teams, bands, church youth, public school, private school- every group associated with kids is raising money, fall and spring, all over America, usually at the same time.  Just this month, the Boy Scouts have been selling popcorn; football players are selling coupon books; the high school band had a march-a–thon; there’s a fundraising car wash and garage sale just about every weekend; and numerous groups have been having fundraising nights at local eateries—in addition to carnivals, auctions, bazaars, home tours, and bake sales. Each girl on Allison’s drill team was recently required to sell 50 $1 sweepstakes tickets; each family was responsible for soliciting three $10 gift card/certificate donations for the sweepstakes; each family had to bake (and I mean bake—no store-bought items allowed) six large items for the bake sale (and we were given a sheet of instructions as to what the definition of “large” is) and each parent and drill team member was required to work two three-hour shifts at this weekend’s arts and crafts bazaar/bake sale (Andy is grateful one of his shifts involved doing something “manly”, marking off vendor booth space with electrical tape.) Oh, and each family was required to shop for, and donate, 72 bottles/cans of water and soda.  If parents don’t do their part, their daughter receives a demerit (a.k.a. point deduction that can eventually lead to the girl getting kicked off the team.)  When I asked someone in charge what happens if the child doesn’t sell 50 sweepstakes tickets (Allison only sold 6), I was told we had to write a check for the difference.  “But make sure to put your name on all those ticket stubs if you do!” I had to smile as I turned in my baked goods and the bake sale chairperson said, “Great! That will be one merit for your daughter.” Drill team members earn merits (points added) when they do something good. Um, I took off a whole day of work to bake those 36 chocolate chunk cookies, 12 blueberry-flax muffins, 12 giant peanut butter cups, 2 pans of Banana Nut Cheerios bars and 1 chocolate chip cookie pie…don’t I get a merit, too?

 

I’ve got to honestly admit that it never occurred to me to ask Allison, or require Allison, to help me bake those items.  I’ve always looked at most fundraisers as something kids don’t have time to do any more—with homework and extracurriculars, if my kids have extra time, I want them to be cleaning their rooms or doing something else to help around the house.  Also, I figure funds for drill team uniforms and choir trips are going to eventually come out of my pocket, so what’s wrong with me doing most of the fundraising work in order to save a buck?

 

Plenty, I’m starting to realize.  It just worsens that sense of entitlement so many teens have these days, which is crippling to their future adulthood, and hurts their character.  And I’ve been feeling a “teen entitlement wave” coming at me from Allison a lot lately.  There’s been a lot of “do this-buy that-drive me here-take me there” attitude without much in return.

Chores are being half-done, if at all; clothes from vacation are still mounded in a pile on her bedroom floor three weeks later; grades in science and math are dismal; sass and back talk have reached new levels of cut-to-the-core viciousness.  Meanwhile, her school choir is planning an optional trip to Disney World for April and they recently had an Innisbrook gift sale…her one customer was me, and it took me a half hour just to input the order online.

 

As luck would have it, I just happened to be talking to a wise parent last weekend, a seasoned AFS host mom, also with two girls of her own, who long ago got fed up and decided that if her kids expected to go on expensive band or choir trips, they would be required to earn a certain percentage of the cost through the fundraisers provided and through doing odd jobs. Wow– why didn’t no-nonsense anti-helicopter me think of that?  Suddenly, all those magazine and cookie dough fundraisers I used to despise looked a whole lot better.  Because it doesn’t matter if you like what they’re selling or if your kid is “too busy to sell”.  If they really want to go, they’ll find a way to “move the product”, if it’s a requirement.  And in the age of modern technology, it’s not that time-consuming for them to send a mass e-mail to friends and family, a mass text, or (No way, Mom!) personal phone calls.  Just like with any sale, they just might learn something about goal setting, marketing and promotions.  And if the kid doesn’t want to put forth the effort toward raising part of the cost, then they really don’t want to go that badly, and the parents can save money. (And, if the product doesn’t sell, then the organization needs to re-think its fundraising efforts—with input from the kids!!)

 

At first I thought this newfound strategy would be wasted regarding the choir trip, since the Innisbrook fundraiser has ended (and we don’t have many lucrative “odd jobs” for Allison to do). But, God bless ‘em, the choir booster club moms just announced another fundraiser—fresh poinsettias.  And I’ve already told Allison that she has to sell 15 in order to go on the Disney trip. 

 

So far, no effort has been made on her part, and the orders are due Friday.  I don’t think she thinks I’m serious.  But I am.  Because if anyone in this family should be “entitled” to something right now, it’s not her– it’s me.

Bullish About Anti-Bullying Program

We humans may have found a vaccine for Polio, landed a man on the moon and invented the Twinkie, but we sure have a long way to go in getting a handle on school bullying, don’t you think? Just like our parents did many years ago, modern parents still (unless we are rabid helicopter parents) just shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s human nature” and tell our kids to “stand tall” if they are teased/bullied.  More phrases in the time-worn parent anti-bullying arsenal include “Be tough”, “Walk away”, and “Laugh it off”.  I’ve used that advice and given that advice—growing up, I was teased relentlessly about being short, and my youngest child, Emmie, has faced the same taunts for years.  I once had a “friend” who convinced the entire class not to speak to me for several days; Emmie has a “friend” who routinely informs her (in front of others) that she’s the worst dressed in the whole class. I tell her she shouldn’t be friends with people who treat her badly and that there will always be people who find fun in putting down others.  But is it really “normal” to have bullies? Aren’t we hurting both the perpetrators and victims by not showing them another way?

Oh, sure, many schools (including Emmie’s) give anti-bullying lessons taught by a counselor and instituted a “no-bullying” policy a decade ago (kids are supposed to tell their teacher if they’ve been bullied), but that has worked about as great as the “This is A Gun Free Zone” sign posted near the carpool lanes.  Bullying still continues, and the school once went on lock down when a crazed man roamed the neighborhood with a rifle.  Kids, of course, feel that if they tell a teacher that they’ve been bulllied, they’ll be labeled a tattletale and bullied further, and those who have gone ahead and come forward are often intimidated by the fact that they have to immediately miss valuable class time while they’re called to the counselor’s office for a face-to-face with the perpetrator, a “let’s all talk about our feelings” session.  Not comfortable at all.  And if a parent decides to “go the other route” and talk to the perpetrator’s parents, you always run the risk that you will encounter a parent who gets defensive, or over-reacts and over-punishes their child, or who puts the blame back on your own child.  Not worth the time or trouble.  

But the “engineer” in me says some kind of solution/prevention/intervention has got to be worth it, because the playing field has recently been taken to a whole new level thanks to the misuse of the Internet (and the glorification of that misuse in popular movies). Before when we told our kids to just “walk away”, or ignore hurtful words, they could, but now bullying can follow them right into their homes, even their cars, thanks to hateful texting, webcams and Facebook “polls”, where a kid posts someone’s photo and then asks everyone to “weigh in”.  And suddenly, zillions of people are laughing and taunting you rather than just the 20 or so in your classroom.  Combine that magnitude of embarrassment with the typical low self-esteem present in many kids/teens and tragedy is inevitable.  The college student who recently jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge is just the latest of many suicides connected to Internet bullying.  

As I pondered this yesterday, I remembered hearing a presentation last year by Jill Darling, the director of student assistance programs for our school district. Richardson ISD was the first district in the U.S. to try out an anti-bullying program a couple years ago at a few schools, a program that had started in England, and Jill told of “amazing” results at the pilot schools.  Jill was “on fire” for it.  Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I remember how she said it was building bridges not only between peers but cross-generational as well, between grades. I dug out my notes and looked up the program online (click here to see what I found). 
Called R time, at first glance it looks like just another typical anti-bullying curriculum. But a quote from a child participant, listed on the R time UK website, caught my eye: “Thanks to R time, I now have friends I don’t even like!”  I called Jill to see if the program was still going, and how it’s doing.

Not only is R time going well in our district, but it’s catching on in several more—31 districts and 144 schools participate in Texas at present count, and a Midwest contingent is starting as well.  R time’s secret may lie in the fact that it really doesn’t talk about bullying much—it focuses more on simply getting along, and has kids pair off and discuss random topics.  For elementary kids, the question might be “What would you do if you couldn’t use shampoo or a hairbrush for a week?” For junior high kids, it might be, “What would you do if you discovered a boyfriend/girlfriend was seeing someone else behind your back?” (Suddenly I’m reminded of The Ungame —anyone remember that blast from the 70’s?) Jill said when teachers and staff get trained and really take it to heart, the results are good—principals, for example, compare the number of students disciplined for bullying issues pre- R time and post R time, and the decrease is dramatic.  Children tell her of becoming friends with people who had been their enemies for years. Jill told me that the Dallas Morning News recently printed not one but two articles about R time (we were on vacation when they were published): one in which reporter Jeffrey Weiss visited an R time classroom; and a post from columnist Jacque Floyd.  Jeffrey’s article is full of positive statistics; Jacque describes R time as “No finger-wagging lectures, no corny and marginally embarrassing caring-and- sharing exercises, no expensive materials – just informal random pairings of kids, with a little friendly get-to-know-you time governed by a straightforward set of behavior rules… instead of a well-meaning-but- overbearing mandate to be nice, it creates the low-pressure opportunity for nice to occur.”


I think R time sounds like good news.  It may not be a cure-all, but it’s the only thing I’ve seen address the problem with any measurable amount of success.  I hope Emmie’s school is next on the list to try it out, because I know the 6th grade girls could use it.  Right now.  Emmie has been coming home every day with tales of betrayal and backstabbing, and I’m wondering how anyone can learn math, science or anything else with all that drama going on.  Monday, a “friend” said to her, in front of others, “How much did your mom pay you to wear that today?” and Tuesday, she got in the car with tears in her eyes because she’s being teased by a “friend” about not wearing a bra yet.  And all I could offer was, just don’t be friends with people who treat you badly (and be very, very glad you don’t have to wear a bra yet…).

 

Homecoming 101

 

                  Double-bear mum top.  Is there really a mum in there?

North Texas parents of young kids, start saving your money now if you want your child to “fit in” in high school. And if your child happens to be a girl, take out a second mortgage on your house.  Because if high school is “over the top” now, and this is a down economy, what’s it going to be like in ten or fifteen years?

 

 


Now that I have two girls in high school, a sophomore (Allison) and a junior (Cleo), and it’s Homecoming Week, I’m getting quite the education.  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, pull up a chair. Er, I mean a desk. 

Class is in session. Take out your textbook and turn to the first page.

 

Introduction- High School Homecoming

This was a tradition that started in Missouri in 1891 that happens in the fall, when high schools invite their alumni to attend a Friday night football game, and a special dance for the students is held, usually the Saturday night after the game.  A queen, and sometimes a king, are crowned at either the game or the dance. The dance is often held in the school gym.  Some schools crown royalty for each grade.  During the “Spirit Week” leading up to the game and dance, lots of extra posters and decorations usually adorn the school, and at some schools, like ours, the students and teachers wear costumes to school based on a theme that changes daily. Some schools hold parades.

 

Chapter 1- Groups
(Huh? There’s more? Didn’t the intro pretty much cover it?)

 

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea to encourage kids to go to the dance in groups.  That way, people can have fun and still go without having to be asked, without having a “date”.  And even the date pairs can group up. Not a bad idea.  Then someone got it in their head to have everyone in their group wear the same color T-shirt on the day of the game. Then others started doing the same.  Then a group decided to add puff paint and decorations to their shirts.  Then another designed a logo for their group’s shirt to go with the theme of Homecoming, and have their shirts custom printed, and everyone else who had a group started doing the same.  Then someone got the idea of listing all the group members’ names on the backs of their custom printed group T-shirts. And everyone started doing the same.  And suddenly, an idea that was supposed to help kids feel more a part of homecoming started making kids feel very left out.  Can you imagine how a teenager must feel on game day at school, when they’re not wearing a group shirt, when their name doesn’t join the coveted roster printed on the backs of every cool girl and boy?  
 

Chapter 2- Mums

 

Guys taking a date to the football game at a southern American high school traditionally bought their date a mum (short for Chrysanthemum, a perennial flower that comes in many colors) to wear on the front of their outfit, usually pinned on the upper right.   Florists would often add a few streamers hanging down and other decorations around the mum. Then enterprising moms and craft stores got the idea that they could create the mums themselves—why give florists all the glory, not to mention the bucks? And besides, they could make them cuter.  They could personalize them more.  Then school PTAs realized, why not use mums as a fundraiser? So they started making them, too. And since they had to make so many in advance, real flowers just wouldn’t do anymore, so the mums, now all white, began to be artificial. And got artificially bigger. And the streamers got longer. And the craft retailers kept coming up with more “stuff” to add to the mums, plastic trinkets representing every class and just about every activity going on at the schools (wait, did I see an underwater basket-weaving charm the other day?). And for an extra fee, you can buy that basket-weaving trinket with glitter added. Fake pearls? They’ve got’em.  Feather boas? Ditto.  A stuffed bear right in the middle of the flower? Sure.  And that will be $7 extra if you don’t want your bear to be naked.  How about a football player outfit for your bear? Drill team hat? Cheer skirt? Every Bratz doll and Barbie in town only wish they looked this fine…And how about a cow bell? Yeah, that’s right…a FREAKING COW BELL! A 3” x 4” metal cowbell, painted in your school colors, of course.  Yes, it makes the mums heavier, but it clangs when you walk, so that everyone will know your date spent an extra $6 on that bell.  And if he really loves you, you’ll have more than one bell attached.  And because of the amount of “stuff” attached, the mums can no longer be pinned near the right shoulder.  You must wear them around your neck, so it’s really a mum necklace, strapped on with a thin, white cotton rope.  The mum hangs down almost to your belly, the streamers touch your ankles.  But I’m not sure why they even call it a mum anymore, because you can hardly see the flower.  And they’re so large, they cover up the front of those group t-shirts that someone painstakingly designed.  Guys now wear mums, too.  (Huh?) Girls buy their dates a slightly smaller version, worn on the arm, via a “garter”.  And yes, the guys all have stuffed teddy bears in the center of theirs, too. (Andy is amazed why these high school guys allow themselves to be “sissified” in that way. “NO WAY would I have worn something like that,” he says.)

 

Earlier in the week, usually the group gets together for a party or dinner where they “unveil” and exchange their mums.

 

Though expensive (prices range from $35 to around $100), the school makes a killing off of them. Many area PTAs rent out vacant retail space each year and start setting up the school Mum Shop beginning in the summer.  Lots and lots of volunteer parents work in the shop, fashioning the mums and taking orders.  Many of those parents got little sleep this week because they were trying feverishly to finish up the orders in time for the big day.

 

Chapter 3  After-the-game

Since most teen-friendly restaurants in North Texas suburbia shut down before the game is even over (no kidding—pizza places that could be full of cash carrying teens close by 10 p.m.!!), and the groups don’t want the fun to end too soon, each group tries to outdo the other one in arranging a group activity.  This year, Allison’s group is going to Zero Gravity extreme thrill park (aka bungee jumping); Cleo’s is playing broomball at a Dr. Pepper StarCenter ice rink. Every teen will be sure to have a camera along, because the more photos you can post on Facebook of your group having fun, the better.

 

Chapter 4- The day of the dance

If you have a girl, and one that doesn’t drive, block out your entire Saturday because you’ll be pulling chauffeur duty all day. They all want to get their hair done at a salon, and ditto for their nails.  On hands and feet.  I drew the line at a spray-on tan. And said no to professionally done makeup as well.  But I know many other girls who will be “having it all” and probably even a massage, too.    (Gee, shouldn’t that be for the chauffeur?) You can bet I will be catching up on my reading while I wait.

 

But it all has to be done in time for the photo session.  That’s where you’ll meet up with your group to start the evening.  (Thankfully, in the groups I’ve been involved with, the parents are the photographers, not a professional.) And of course, each group tries to come up with a “cool” place at which to take the photos, ‘cause they’ll all be tagging them and comparing them on Facebook soon. Parks, fountains, sculptures, hotel lobbies…  Allison, God bless her, wanted to do something different from the usual last year and have a more urban background, like a nearby train track and a platform that’s decorated with art.  She thought it would be a neat contrast between their fancy dresses and suits.  No one else liked her idea… but, what’s wrong with Mom and Dad’s living room as a backdrop? Looking at my own high school dance photos and my brother’s and sister’s, the house and the “retro” living room furniture in the background are almost as fun to see as the people!

 

After the photo session, the groups head to a restaurant for dinner, and many groups choose to have a “party bus” or Hummer limo haul them to dinner and then to the dance…Andy and I remember that “in our day”, mass transportation would get rented IN COLLEGE when people were planning to drink, so they wouldn’t have to drive…so why do high school students need this? I was told it was so the group could stay together, arrive “en masse” and make a grand entrance to the dance, so no one has to get there ahead of time and feel like a total dork while they wait (haven’t they ever heard of the words “carpool” and “caravan”?)…Cleo’s group has 23 people in it and the bus is costing over $1,000 to rent…you do the math…

 

Chapter 5- After the dance

 

The dance ends at midnight, and again, teens don’t think their fun should end then.  And parents want to avoid kids getting in trouble and going somewhere to drink, so another fun group activity is planned for after the dance.  Last year, one of Allison’s group parents had an all-night party and rented a bounce house.  This year, I know of several groups who are having an all night lock-in at a gymnastics center.  

 

Chapter 6- Game Day Pep Rally

 

Well, the big game is tonight, and I must say, the homecoming pep rally this morning was quite an experience.  The halls were transformed so wonderfully with themed decorations, they didn’t look like halls.  One looked like a dark forest.  I can see why Allison looks forward to this day so much.  The band played.  The drill team performed.  The cheerleaders flipped.  The coaches got on the microphones and fired up the crowd.  The excitement was infectious.

 

But the deafening sound of over 1,000 mums clanging as students walked in and out of the gym and through the halls, and the myriad of different colored group T-shirts in the bleachers, made me want to scream, and I don’t mean “Go Mustangs!” I just kept thinking of the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr and kept my mouth shut: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… 

 

 

 

The Passing Period: More Like A Passing Dash

When parents have a bone to pick with a teacher or a school, it’s definitely a whole different ballgame than everyday consumer complaints. Many things race through your head when trying to decide if you should speak out or not.  Will the teacher take it out on my child in the classroom if I complain? Will my complaint really make a difference? Will they laugh at me after I leave? You know there are those parents who are in the principal’s office every week spouting off about this or that.  Will I be labeled as “a complainer”, too? Oh, I may hold up the grocery store line once in awhile to have them do a price check, but not enough to where they’d remember me.  But at a school? Usually you plan on being there for several years, every day for 9 ½ months out of each year.  They’ll remember you. It’s enough to make a parent keep their mouth shut. And many do.  I have complained over the years, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve complained in 10 years.  I try to pick and choose my battles carefully. Like the time Allison’s kindergarten class left the school to walk to a nearby park for an outing, and left Allison behind, in the school bathroom. She came home that night and told me she was a little scared and sad when she realized everyone had gone, and she walked out of the school all by herself and down the street to join the kids at the park playground.  That was definitely complaint-worthy! Then there was the teacher who spent more time screaming at the kids and making them put their heads on their desks than actually teaching them anything.  And the teacher who would routinely leave the classroom, during class, to chat with other teachers in the hall for long periods of time, and also leave group tutoring sessions in the same way, sessions that kids had gotten up at the crack of dawn to attend.  “Talk amongst yourselves,” she’d say, and leave.  It took me a long time to come forward on that one. She was an award-winning teacher.  But the kids were getting disillusioned, and their grades were tanking.  Though other parents knew about the problem, I was one of only two who came forward and said anything. “Why did you wait so long?” the principal said.

Now another problem that has been festering for awhile has finally come to the surface, and I think I need to put it on the list of “worth complaining about”.  Only to who, and how, I’m not quite sure.  Here’s the issue: remember how “back in the day” in jr. high and high school, we used to have 10 minutes between classes? We could used the restroom, or stand at our lockers and brush our hair using the mirror in our cool “locker caddy”, or walk our significant other to their class and still have time to make it to our own. Well, I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but kids in many jr. high and high schools today only have 5 minutes between classes.  Our school district is no exception.  Allison’s high school is huge, with row upon row of beautiful, blue painted lockers, and NO ONE — USES THEM.  Bond money was used to build even more lockers a few years ago when 9th grade was added to the high school, and still, NO ONE — USES THEM.  Seriously.  There’s no time to use them, and as a result, many kids get a huge school bag and carry everything with them, all day, so they won’t be late to class.  Allison’s bag last year was so big, she could have easily taken our dog to school, along with her notebooks, textbooks, and lunch, and no one would have noticed.  That bag was so heavy, I couldn’t carry it more than a couple steps. It’s no wonder she’s been told by a dance teacher that her shoulders are out of alignment!  But that’s not the main reason I want to complain about the short passing periods.  The worst casualty of cramming as many classes as possible into one day is that kids, especially girls, don’t have time to use the restroom between classes.  And during class, many teachers have a policy of zero bathroom breaks, or they give kids 6 bathroom passes to use for the entire semester.  Huh? I hadn’t heard about this much in the past because Allison had “potty-friendly teachers”, but this year she doesn’t, and said she was almost in tears one day last week by around 4:00 pm.  I did the math.  She hadn’t been able to use the restroom since 9 that morning.  Ouch. And in the “mean girls” pecking order of the cafeteria lunch table, if she gets up at lunch to use the restroom, she says her seat will be taken when she gets back… so she doesn’t get up. 

Two days after Allison told me this, a friend of mine remarked that her daughter, a new 7th grader, could hardly concentrate on learning anything because of the “potty policy” of her teachers, and said the daughter told her that now she and her friends won’t hardly drink any water at lunch so they won’t feel uncomfortable later.  I realized the same thing happens at the high school.  Allison, and Cleo, rarely pack drinks in their lunches. Don’t kids need to stay hydrated, especially when the weather is still 100 degrees outside? Can’t you get kidney infections from “holding it in” all day? And, if we can get really frank here for a moment—where there are teenage girls, there are menstruating girls.  Just when do they have time to take care of that issue? Can we say “at greater risk of toxic shock”?  

Naturally, I feel compelled to do something about this. I have a gut feeling that not many parents, if any, have felt the same way. (And even if they did, who has the time??? And who wants to talk about kidneys??? Or tampons??????) But, to whom do you complain? The school nurse?  The principal? The underlying problem is the scheduling, and it would probably take an act of God to add more time to the passing periods, which would lengthen the school day.  But I do have one ace up my sleeve.  I sit on a district-wide School Health Advisory Committee, composed of principals, parents, physical education teachers, school nurses and school dieticians.  I’ve been on it for years, and we just happen to be having our first meeting of the semester tomorrow morning.  Maybe it could be brought up there. (Then again, maybe I will just put my head down on the desk…) 

Form Fatigue

Are other parents with school-aged kids feeling the crush of back-to-school paperwork this year, or is it just me? That was the question on my mind last Thursday afternoon when I got an email asking me to fill out what seemed like the 50th  (or was it the 60th) “form” I’ve had to fill out since the start of school.  I put the question to Barb, a mother of two, ages 10 and 13, who was at the elementary school that day doing some volunteer work, like me.  She said she was about to tear out her hair as well, and reminded me that even when we fill out all the forms we’re supposed to, on time, we often get repeats of those same forms sent home with our kids or included in a mass email, which play mind games with us and make us wonder if we ever did what we were supposed to do in the first place!

First, there are the official back-to-school forms that must be filled out for each child, every year: The Emergency Contact Form (Please fill out parents’ names, addresses, phone numbers, other emergency contacts, birthdates– yes, even the parents’ birthdate, in case you write any hot checks– child’s name, grade… Have they ever attended school in this district before? If so, tell us which school, and never mind that you’ve had kids at this school for at least ten years…Are you divorced? If so, attach a copy of the divorce decree.  Is your dirty rotten ex allowed to pick up your child from school?); The Technology Agreements (Do you give your child permission to use the Internet on school computers?  If yes, does your child solemnly swear not to watch Fred videos on YouTube repeatedly or play Farmville?); the Release of Information Form (Do you give your permission to have your child’s image used in school district publications, even if they’re sticking out their tongue? Do you want your phone number and email listed in the school directory?  Can we give your child’s contact info to colleges and universities? How about the military? Yes, we know your child may only be in kindergarten—but you still have to take the time to read the entire form and check the proper boxes…); the Health Form (Has your child ever suffered from the following 100 conditions? Will you please go get your insurance card out of your wallet and write down a bunch of information from it on this form?)  and the Proof of Residency (please attach a copy of your latest utility bill showing your name and address, to prove that you are not trying to get your child into this school without currently living where everyone knows the Texas pledge of allegiance, votes Republican and thinks carrot cake is good…)

It wouldn’t be so bad if the form filling-out ended with these forms (although the health form alone took me almost 30 minutes per child!).  But it doesn’t end there.  A few days later, you receive the “I have received the district student/parent handbook” form for each child, and in the upper grades, the “I have read and understand the drug and alcohol policy” form. Sometimes each teacher has their own class conduct/expectations form, in addition, that needs to be read and signed by both parent and student. And, unless your child is in ZERO extracurricular activities, there are even more forms near the start of school for sports, band, choir, drill team, church youth, Scouts, etc. (and God help you if they’re involved in more than one).  More emergency contact forms, health forms, field trip permission forms, conduct agreements, and will-you-be-a-parent-volunteer forms (I think they might get more volunteers if we didn’t have to fill out so many forms all at once… ). And get this—not only do a cascade of forms have to be filled out, they have to be filled out fast! In some classes, if you don’t, it affects a child’s grades– the child will get a zero for a homework assignment if the parent doesn’t fill it out by the deadline!  

Excuse me?! I finished school 26 years ago.  I have work piled on my desk, work that I get PAID to do, and three people in my house are under the weather from really bad colds, including myself, and my vegetarian teenager is angry because there’s nothing in the house at present for her to eat and I really do need to get to the grocery store and the dog needs walking and my foreign exchange student needs me to mail a package to her sister in time for her birthday…and a teacher is telling me I’d better fill out forms RIGHT NOW?? I’m sorry, but I can’t even find the forms, and even if I did, I think I’ve got writer’s cramp.

Lipsticks, High Kicks, Not Hicks– The Positive Influence of the Kilgore Rangerettes

                                    
                            (photo of “The K Girl” on the side of the Rangerette Gym, taken by me)

Anyone who’s read this blog since the beginning knows that me, a Midwestern transplant, and Texas “cowboy culture” don’t get along very well.  I cringe at the fascination with bull roping, tobacco spitting and Toby Keith music, and to me, nothing symbolizes it better than the cowboy hat.  Those hats might as well have the words REDNECK and HICK painted right on the brim.  So you can imagine what I thought when I first saw the 70-plus members of the Kilgore College Rangerettes marching toward me one year at the Cotton Bowl parade, each in a white, wide-brimmed western hat.  But I’ve decided there’s a very big difference in meaning between a cowboy hat and a cowgirl hat.  Especially when they’re worn by a drill team.

 

On Wednesday, I and a handful of other moms accompanied Allison’s high school drill team on a 2 ½-hour bus ride to The Birthplace of Drill– Kilgore College in the tiny town of Kilgore, Texas.  It’s the home of the Rangerettes, America’s first and most famous drill team.  For those not familiar with them, they dress western-style in red, white and blue, including white boots and the afore-mentioned white hat, and are known for their jump splits and so-high-they-can-kiss-their-knees kicks.  They’ve been in the Macy’s parades, on TV, at the White House, on magazine covers, etc., etc. since the 40’s (they’re currently celebrating their 70th anniversary) and countless high school drill teams, especially in Texas, copy their style.  We were there to tour the Rangerette Museum, the Rangerette Gym, the Rangerette Residence Hall, and watch their annual show, called Revels.  For many of our girls, it was the first time they’d been in a college dorm, let alone on a college campus, and they were very excited. “Ooooh!” they gushed as they walked through the pretty and comfortable dorm (who thought those two words could ever be associated with such a structure…)  “Look at their cool patio! They have their own BBQ grill!”  Calm down, I thought.  It’s just a two-year college, in a po-dunk town. And cutthroat competitive.  An elderly man in the gift shop told me many of these girls hire personal trainers and nutritionists, just so they can make the team.  That didn’t surprise me.  Even though I was once on a drill team in 9th grade, it was nothing as “big” as what I’ve seen at high schools down here, and I’ve always been a bit skeptical, especially of anyone who pursues it past high school.  When Allison’s drill team director, a former Rangerette captain, got all choked up and teary-eyed at the new parent meeting a couple months ago when talking about what drill team has meant to her life, I thought, “Is she serious?”

 

But after viewing the museum movie, looking at the exhibits, watching the show, reading the program, and spending time on the bus, I have newfound respect for drill teams and the people that work with them.  Because in addition to providing teenage girls with a great workout and dance skills that can last a lifetime, sometimes translating into careers like teacher, coach, dance studio owner, and even Broadway dancer, the teams that mimic the Rangerettes’ style (like my daughter’s) also often mimic their code of respect and discipline. How cool was it to hear our busload of teenage girls say not just “yes” whenever they answered their director, but “Yes, Ma’aam!” Among other similarities, our girls have to keep their grades up in order to perform at games and shows, and they’re required to be on time for all events (they earn demerits if they’re even a minute late) so they’re encouraged to be 10-15 minutes early everywhere they go.

 

I doubt I’ll ever hear Allison say “Yes, Ma’aam!” to me, but if being on a drill team makes her a more respectful, more punctual person, I, too, will get teary-eyed someday when talking about it. Already I’ve seen the upcoming spring show motivate her to bring up her grades.  Makes me want to kick up my heels…

um, on second thought, maybe I better not do that, but I promise I won’t make fun of those cowgirl hats ever again.

 

Scenes From A School Talent Show

Just like a 4th of July Parade or apple pie, nothing is more “slice of Americana” than an elementary school talent show, eh? Kids in egg costumes singing a hard rock/rap version of Humpty Dumpty; a boy on piano plinking out “Axel F”; teachers tap dancing; three sisters in red lipstick singing The Star Spangled Banner…Last weekend, Andy and I coordinated the mechanics of our elementary school’s talent show for the first time.  Though it’s a small school with less than 250 kids, the talent show is a big annual production (some would say it’s unnecessarily “over the top”), held at a local high school auditorium, complete with tech crew, music, lights, microphones, fog machine, scared kids, bold kids, “stage parents”, pint-sized divas, and this year, lots of props.  While I completely understand the “over the top” comments, I also think it’s a unique arts opportunity offered by our school’s PTA, giving young kids the chance to perform on a big stage– some kids who may never have the chance otherwise, or who may never do so again.  This year’s show went well and was a big success, but, well, read on…


This year’s theme was “television”, and the show was titled, “Don’t Touch That Dial!”  While it’s hard to see a connection with TV from the acts I mentioned above, believe me, if it wasn’t obvious, I somehow found a way, in the emcees’ script that I wrote, to tie each act to TV (who knew “Axel F” has been played on numerous TV shows, like The Simpsons? Thank you, Wikipedia…) But we did have a lot of obvious TV-related participants—one mom dressed up like Richard Simmons and led a group of kindergarteners as they “sweated” to the Oldies; there was a giant bottle, a bunch of tiny Jeannies and mini Major Nelsons in a 3rd grade “I Dream of Jeannie” dance act; and Hee Haw even made a comeback…twice! Never mind that the kids (and some of the parents) probably hadn’t ever seen half the TV shows parodied, or even knew what the “Dial” was in the show’s title…but at least some of the parents and most of the grandparent-filled audience knew…


Andy and I had hoped that maybe this year there would be no drama involved in bringing this show to life…but, hey, it’s a talent show, and I guess drama just naturally comes with it…
        First, people complained about the fact that we’d moved the date to February, since in the past it had been in late March, early April, or even May. But in the past, people had complained about those dates as well (“There’s too much going on in the spring!”) so we thought we’d try something different.  Then, a mom who was choreographing a large group act but whose son doesn’t attend our school any more, called to see if he could be in the act.  “He wants to be with all his friends,” she said.  I said yes, and she was happy (this was someone who’d done a lot for the show over the years and I figured she’d earned that privilege.)  But our principal said no, and I had to call the mom to break the news.  She was on a ladder putting up Christmas decorations at the time and having fun with her kids.  Not the greatest time for me to play Scrooge.  Then, 7 weeks before the show, we realized we were short on acts, so we sent out a plea on the last day of school before the holiday break to see if anyone else wanted to participate.  We got six more acts, including a Michael Jackson impersonator.  Well, pseudo Jacko ended up dropping out (he was only in second grade, so maybe we’ll see him next year), leaving us with about 23 acts, but we decided that was enough, and boldly forged ahead.


By mid-January, things were starting to come together.  Most of the acts had turned in their registration forms and backing music. A parent volunteer was planning out the set design. The 6th grade class, who all take turns in pairs being the emcees and who have two big dance numbers every year, were practicing every week with a parent volunteer choreographer, who just happened to be a former drill team member. She was working wonders with those kids who seemed to have two left feet.  I’d finished the script, and Andy was working with the student emcees on learning their lines.  Were we in the clear? Was it now smooth sailing ahead?


My phone rang late one afternoon as I was fixing dinner.  It was a 6th grade dad who was very excited about an idea he’d been thinking about “ever since the show’s theme was announced!” He wanted to build a giant remote control, with buttons and lights that turned on, and it would be, as he put it, his last hurrah at the school, since his 6th grader was his youngest child and would be going to jr. high next year. He wanted to craft it out of a yoga mat, so it would be like a sandwich board that could hang on someone, but at the same time, it could be taken off and used as a giant prop, and… My head was spinning.  ‘HUH? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?’ I was thinking, but what I said instead was, “Hmmm…interesting. Go on.”  He had all these ideas for how the remote could be used by the emcees, how they could get in a fight over the remote and hit each other with it, it could “run away” and they could chase it, he himself could ride his bike across stage at the end of the show, dragging it behind him…I calmly explained to him that the script was done, that we were three weeks away from showtime, that we had an art director who was already working on set decoration, and that the emcees were already memorizing their lines.  He was stunned. “Wow,” he said, “The script is done already?” Well, yes, I explained, when the kids practice only once a week, that doesn’t give them much time to learn their lines together….


I could tell he was bummed, and he had so much enthusiasm for this project, that I tried to figure out a way to make it work.  Which was tough, because the “thing” wasn’t even built yet.  “Well, at the very least,” I reasoned, “you said it would make a good prop just to sit on stage, right? And you said you could always wear it for Halloween, right? So go ahead and make it, and we’ll see.  But, you have to bring it to a rehearsal soon so we can work with it and the kids together.  You can’t spring it on them at the last minute.”  I also thought, maybe he won’t be able to finish it because it seemed so complicated, and then I won’t have to deal with it at all.  What kind of hair-brained idea is it, anyway, to make a giant remote control out of a yoga mat?!


One week went by and no word from Mr. 6th Grade Dad. Two weeks went by.  At around this time, the choreographer’s father passed away and practices had to be re-arranged. Then three weeks passed and still no sign of the giant remote, so I figured either it just didn’t work out, or he didn’t have the time…


On the night before the show, dress rehearsal is in full swing when I catch a glimpse of Mr. Dad, carrying his contraption under one arm and attempting to get someone to listen to him.  He tries to get my attention, but I’m scurrying around trying to make sure all the acts are where they need to be, and I don’t have time to deal with him.  He looks dejected.  One of the parents tells me, “Well, it is a pretty cool remote control…”  From what I could see, it wasn’t made out of a yoga mat after all, more like black painted foam core, and it really did have a working red light, and lots of buttons…and it wasn’t a costume, just a 5-ft. long prop.  (Meanwhile, Allison calls on my cell phone to tell me that she is stranded at home and can’t get a ride to her high school, where she’s due in costume any minute for their production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, and I make frantic phone calls trying to arrange a ride for her…Me: “Allison, I got you a ride, be looking for Mrs. M’s tan SUV in ten minutes!  There’s too much fog onstage and the Addams Family act can’t see! No Allison, I’m not talking to you.  Break a leg! Bye! CUT THE FOG!!”) At the end of dress rehearsal, I find Mr. Dad sitting on a table backstage, and feel bad that I’d ignored him.  Why do I keep feeling sorry for this guy? I take pity on him and say, at the risk of hurting the integrity of the entire show (and what little I have left personally), “Okay, I’ll make a deal with you about your remote.  We have some places in the show where it’s taking awhile to get props on and off the stage.  And we also have a couple places where we don’t have emcees.  So, if you can work with your son and his friends tomorrow during the day, on some of your ideas, we can put it in the show.”  He lights up (just like his remote).  I show him, on the “Order of Acts” sheet, exactly where we can fit it in, including right at the start of the show.   
    “I’ll call the boys and see what I can do!” he promises.


The next night, ten minutes after the show was to begin, I’m standing in a backstage room with my clipboard and headset, not believing what I am experiencing—everyone is waiting to get started– the audience, Andy at the sound board, the tech crew, the props movers, the spotlight operator, the acts …all because…the back had fallen off The Remote.  Mr. Dad is in front of me, the giant remote lying prone on a desk, wires popping out, and he’s frantically trying to get the back in place with the help of a mom with a box cutter, and narrow electrical tape. The people in my earphones are getting antsy.  Finally, he walks onstage, just him and his giant remote control in the spotlight…


It was actually a pretty good opening…he pondered out loud about what might be on TV tonight, and aimed the large remote at the stage curtains, and the show began.  Even though he and his “actors” missed most of their cues and only made it back onstage a few more times, he was thrilled.  He got his last hurrah, we got a sort of-pretty-good prop and sight gag for the show, and I reminded myself, once again, just how much my life is like the sitcoms that the kids were singing about up on stage. 


 

Geek Phobia– Can We Get A Vaccine, Please?

America has a lot of long-time, embarrassingly idiotic attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices about a lot of things that make us the laughing stock of the world, and no where is this seen more acutely than in jr. high and high school.  For example, what total no-brain started the attitude, so many years ago, that athletic ability rules and that having any kind of smarts or artistic talent is considered geeky? Probably someone who ended up spending their life on welfare, in jail, or addicted to drugs or alcohol.  Someone who was no doubt operated on or supervised by, at one point in their life, by a “geek”.  But here we are, at least 60 years later, and that attitude still prevails, hurting us in so many ways.  I actually heard a friend say to me a couple years ago, “I’m not going to encourage my son to be in the band because I don’t want him to be called a band geek.” Huh? I tried to set her straight. Though my band experience ended in 9th grade and Allison’s ended by 7th, I have a lot of friends who found their life’s career in band, not to mention those who simply found great friends and memories.


 


“People who are in band, or choir, remember, are musically talented,” I told her.  “Which means they are pretty fun people.  Their parties are fun, even school field trips are fun, because there’s always lots of music and you never know—there could be an impromptu jam session, or singing… they have great music collections and they’re usually pretty good dancers, too.”  (well…at least the drummers are…)


 


I related some of my own memories to her.  I’ll never forget a “spring tour” I went on with my high school show choir (we were called “The Purple Aires”—  naturally, since our high school colors were purple and gray). Our choir director booked us to sing at a church and in the cafeteria of a community college in the greater Kansas City area, which was a day’s drive from my hometown.  Not sure if even one of those college students ever looked at us while we were singing, but we still had a lot of fun (Worlds of Fun, to be exact—that was the name of the theme park we got to visit)—and we did break into a song or two on our “tour bus”… Fast forward to 2007– I’m driving a bunch of 6th grade Girl Scouts around Washington, D.C., and the band girls who are riding in my (rented) minivan start an impromptu “mouth version” of the Star Wars theme, singing their particular instrument’s part, perfectly on pitch, using the word, “Duh” for each note. Several band “sections” were represented in my car and so, as all the parts chimed in and came together, it actually sounded good! I christened them The Duh Band.  They had so much fun, they kept doing it again and again, recording it on their phones (the second time with an emcee, of course) and eventually performing it for our whole troop.  Even girls who normally weren’t friends were having a blast and cracking each other up as they performed.  It was one of my fondest memories of the entire trip, and I felt sorry for the girls who weren’t in band.


 


By the end of our conversation, my friend said she’d never thought of band kids as “fun” before and I thought maybe I’d changed an attitude. Not sure that I did.  Her son didn’t enroll in band.  When grown adults start worrying about whether their kid is going to look “cool” or not, we’re in a sorry state.


 


Speaking of Scouts—now there’s yet another group who gets a bad rap.  The uniform probably doesn’t help, but, uniform aside, Scouts offer some pretty cool things kids can’t get in other activities, at least not at a young age.  Opportunities to learn how to lead, whether it’s leading the troop in a meeting, or leading a service project, or teaching younger Scouts how to do something. Opportunities to experience a whole lot of stuff in ways other kids can’t.  My 5th grade Girl Scout troop is sleeping overnight at NASA next month, something only offered to Scouts.  In a couple weeks, we’re learning about the winter Olympics and going “curling” (yes, Dallas has a curling club!) and visiting the only wolf sanctuary in Texas.  It’s so much more than camping and selling cookies (although those activities are good as well) and yet parents either don’t sign up their kids (one mom told me, “I was never in Scouts so I’m not signing up my daughter”) or they let it go by the wayside as kids get busy with jr. high sports and other activities. 


 


Kudos to Girl Scouts of the USA for continually trying to update the uniform and trying to keep the program fresh and “current”.  Kudos to movies like “High School Musical” and the TV show, Glee, which has helped boost enrollment in school choir and theatre programs.  And kudos to all the travel agencies out there who specialize in arranging choir and band trips to exciting locales.  Jay Johnson, the owner of Coastline Travel in Garden Grove, CA, (I work with a lot of travel professionals in the corporate freelance writing that I do) told me last week about how his agency resurrected the Hawaii Invitational International Music Festival, and that when bands and choirs are able to plan trips to Hawaii, it doubles their membership. 


 


In the next few months, Emmie is going to have to decide if she’s going to participate in 6th grade band next year and if so, what instrument she’ll play. (She’s already been kicked out of choir for doing pirouettes on the risers, among other things…) Band instruction is provided for 6th graders every day during school hours in our district (even though our 6th grade is still at the Elementary School.) I told her I thought she ought to consider percussion, since she’s had the piano experience they require, and they might even let her play her guitar. 


“But, Mom,” she said yesterday as we drove to church, “hardly any of my friends are going to be in band.”


“Why not?” I said.


“They think it’s for geeks,” she said.


 


 


 

Sleepless in Suburbia

Conversation this morning just before my teen, Allison, got out of the car to walk into school, and just after she’d complained how tired she was and how she’d stayed up until 2:30 a.m. doing homework and how she couldn’t get up this morning and how she’d forgotten her headband and now her hair would look bad and how she was going to be late to school, and…


 


Uncool Mom : You know, sometimes you’ve just got to put your homework aside and say, I need sleep.


Teen daughter: (Getting angry, voice rising) I’m not going to do that!! If I did, I’d fail everything! You’re always saying it’s important to get good grades, so DON’T BE A HYPOCRITE!!  (Door slams, she walks up the sidewalk to school)


 


I didn’t roll down the window and yell at the top of my lungs that I loved her, like I’ve done other times that she’s yelled at me on the way to school…she was sort of right, and besides, I didn’t have the energy, having been up past 1 a.m. myself, offering guidance to my 11-year-old, who had been diligently working on her Science Fair display board until past midnight, even though she started her experiment weeks before her friends.  “Can I go to school late and finish this in the morning?” Emmie asked.  That wasn’t an option, but after she’d finally laid everything out on the board, just how she wanted it, I told her she could go to bed, and that I’d glue the remaining pieces onto the board.  
 


“You never did that for me,” called down Allison from her perch at the upstairs computer.


“You know that’s not true,” I answered, ticking off a list of her memorable experiments—the “Do birds prefer table scraps over bird seed?” one, the “Does shower spray really work?” one, and the ribbon-winning “What keeps cut flowers alive longest?” one, all of which were finished late at night with mom’s assistance.


 


As some of you know from earlier postings, Allison has gotten involved in high school theatre this year and was very happy to get a lead part in a small musical not long after school started.  While the practice schedule was rough, it wasn’t anything compared to the current one for the big spring musical, the annual jewel in the school’s well-deserved theatre crown. (This year it’s “Fiddler on the Roof”.)  She is one of a few freshmen to make it in the show, and even though it’s a small part, practices recently ratcheted up to where they’re now every day from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or later, with weekend practices as well.  Oy vey!  This heavy practice schedule will go on for about 2 ½ weeks, and then things will get better.  But during that time, it’s just assumed, I guess, by the school, that kids do their homework late at night and during any down time at rehearsals, which sometimes is scarce.


 


It’s the same attitude behind so many other kids’ activities on school nights:  Varsity games, both home and away, with the accompanying drill team, cheerleaders and marching band; dance team practices at local studios that don’t start until 8 p.m.; required concerts that aren’t over until almost 9; select softball games that begin at 9 p.m.  And don’t get me started about ice-related sports in Texas, which compete for limited indoor ice time, with many teams getting stuck practicing in the wee hours of the morning or very late at night.  Emmie’s gymnastics team practices every night for 3 hours, two days ending at 8:45 p.m., and two nights ending at 8 p.m. I don’t know how she’s going to keep her eyes open tonight…


 


Yes, as a society we give short shrift to the importance of sleep for kids (not to mention adults)—and yet we all know how important it is.  We know the obvious stuff–that it helps build immunity so kids’ bodies can fight off all the flus and other illnesses present in schools; helps brain function so they’re better prepared for tests; helps kids’ emotions so they can handle stress; helps prevent daytime drowsiness and car accidents; and that after you’ve had a bad day, it gives you a fresh start on a better one.  Most of us have also heard about the less obvious benefits of sleep—preventing heart disease and other major illnesses.  Sleep is such a God-given gift, yet we don’t do much to support it.


 


The contradictions are endless.  Texas colleges want near-perfect grades just to walk in the door, yet the student also must be well-rounded and show involvement in extracurricular activities, so it’s not good if parents say, “No more! Only homework and nothing else!!”  Schools strive for accolades and money that are given when their students attain high test scores and meets certain benchmarks, yet they don’t do anything long-term to encourage those students to get more sleep so that they can do better on those tests.  Kids are told during Red Ribbon Week, “Don’t do drugs” and yet with their crazy schedules, it’s pretty enticing when they’re also told, “Take this drug and you can stay up for three days straight!”


 


While parents can definitely put their foot down and not let their children’s schedules be controlled by coaches and teachers (last night was not the first time I’ve kept Emmie home from the gym in order to put schoolwork first), we can only go so far.  School administrators and others could take small steps that would help our children (and our families) in a big way.  Stop scheduling choir and band concerts, plays, etc. on school nights.  If that means all those groups would have to fight for precious weekend time, so be it.  One concert for each group per year is fine with me.  (Or here’s an idea: do an extra concert during class time, tape it, and put it out on the Internet.  Or sell it on CD or DVD.  Now there’s a better fundraiser than candy bars, and a lot less fattening.)  Schedule school-night games right after school.  Stop allowing anything to hold practices after 8 p.m. when there’s school the next day. Or, if you’re going to allow it, give all the kids involved extra time to finish tests and projects.  And stop trotting out juniors and seniors during freshman orientation who are “kid wonders”, involved in five extracurriculars at once and making straight-A’s, and telling the unknowing audience, “Yes, you can do it all!”, because it’s a lie.  Because if those kids truly are involved in all those things and getting great grades, there’s one very important thing they’re probably not doing, at least not enough.  Sleeping.  ###


 


 


 

A School Bus “Education”

Remember that school field trip I recently said I would be attending as a chaperone? Here’s an adaptation of a post I made about it at neighborsgo.com, a community website/blogsite of the Dallas Morning News. But beware, ye who blush easily- this is the “uncensored” version.


Ah, nothing like being on a field trip to a museum with a bunch of giggling 4th graders, viewing a bunch of phallic art– and not just at the exhibit.  In fact, I’m not sure where I saw more– on the statues at the Dallas Museum of Art, or drawn all over the seats of the Dallas County school bus on which we rode. Yep, it was a veritable penis party– and notice I’m using the correct anatomical term, as opposed to the slang which had been scrawled on the seats next to the pictures.  In addition to the anatomical “art” and descriptions, there were a whole lot more expletives as well, written in bright (and no doubt permanent) marker. 


If only the rest of the adult chaperones had sat in the back with the kids.  I did, much to the chagrin of my 10-year-old.  But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made my discovery. “Mrs. Allbee, there are cuss words back here,” said one sweet-faced boy. “Yes, there are,” I said, sitting down next to him and grimacing as he pointed out each one.  “They should paint these over,” he said.  At first, I thought, why hasn’t that been done, it’s just one seat.  But then, as I looked around,  I noticed that it was on the backs of more seats, and then I noticed drawings and writings not only on the seat backs, but on the fronts and seat cushions of several more– the graffiti seemed to include more than half the seats on the bus.  If they were painted over with fabric paint, they’d probably just get marked up again.


I wondered what younger kids think when they ride this bus.  I can just hear those who are early readers.  “Teacher, what does F-U-C-K-I-N-G  D-I-C-K-S-U-C-K-E-R mean?” I couldn’t help but think of the impression these buses also make on children from other counties– if my memory is correct, other organizations may rent Dallas County school buses for a fee.  Gee, nothing says Welcome to Dallas better than cuss words and phallic drawings, don’t you think? Not only was the bus heavy with graffiti, but many seats looked like they had been ripped into with knifes– metal and stuffing were hanging out of large gaping holes in the torn, forest green vinyl. 


I think they ought to just cover the seats in cheap clear plastic coverings, like people used to put on their car’s seats in the 50’s and 60’s.  When I was a child, I remember my family’s black Chevy had plastic seat covers that were textured all over, sort of nubby. Fun for little hands to touch– but definitely not easy to write on with a marker!! Maybe that would prevent kids from writing on school bus seats, and if they did, the seat covers could easily be replaced.


In the meantime, for the next field trip, I hope they take the train.  Or maybe I’ll just volunteer to drive!