Archive | March, 2012

The PTO Years

19 Mar

I stared at the email announcing the next Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting. A slight twinge of – indigestion perhaps – gripped me as I moved my mouse pointer back and forth over the “Delete” button. After a brief pause and thinking, “I really should go to this meeting,” I clicked the mouse and sent the email hurtling into cyber-oblivion.

Once upon a time I attended every PTO meeting I could. I signed up to volunteer whenever possible, whether it was snack duty, reading to the class, or helping out a teacher with an in-class project. The reward was in seeing my daughter’s look of delight when I showed up in her classroom. “That’s my mommy,” I heard her say to her classmates, with a note of excitement, pride and happiness in her voice. A feeling of tender warmth would course through my body.

The elementary school years were rich with opportunities to volunteer. At Back-to-School nights, not wanting to appear overly aggressive, parents nevertheless jostle each other in their rush to sign up to help in the classroom. If you arrive to the evening late, the best slots were taken. Attendance at PTO meetings was robust as we listened with rapt attention to the principal’s reports, raised our hands to ask probing questions about academics and socialization, and prided ourselves on our involvement with our children’s education.

During middle school, parents were discouraged from volunteering in the classrooms in the belief that it was no longer “developmentally appropriate” for us to be there. Instead, parents were asked to help with fundraising events that took place elsewhere on school grounds. At the PTO meetings, there would be about a dozen attendees. I was given a reprieve from PTO meetings when we moved to Ireland where the schools do not have PTO meetings.

Returning from Ireland, I went back to attending PTO meetings for the first three years of high school. Attendance was robust at the beginning of the year, especially when the head guidance counselor was asked to speak at the first meetings. The room would fill up with parents eager to find out about what to expect in the high school years. Already in freshman year I could sense rising parental anxieties about college in the form of questions about class placement, AP courses, and standardized testing.

When senior year began, I found myself feeling lackadaisical about attending the meetings, even the first one where the head guidance counselor spoke, so I decided to skip them. It was as if I had been struck by senioritis, the condition of disengagement and lack of motivation usually experienced by high school seniors during their second semester. I didn’t know it could affect parents too.

So as the email disappeared from my inbox, I realized that the twinge I felt was for the end of an epoch, for 13 years of PTO meetings that passed by in a blink of God’s eye. With that, only one thought emerged: time to move on.

President Obama to Speak at Barnard College

7 Mar

This weekend we were excited to learn that President Obama will be giving the keynote address at Barnard College’s commencement this May. Whether you like the President or not, it’s a coup for the college to land him as speaker. The consensus opinion is that he will be using the occasion to appeal to women and youth voters, two groups that pundits say are necessary to his re-election. Tickets to the graduation have become sizzling hot. For the rest of us, we will have to watch the speech live on Barnard’s website.

The news about President Obama has also publicly exposed simmering tensions between Columbia University and Barnard. I noted in a post from 2010 that some Columbia students believe that Barnard students are inferior to them, either because Barnard ranks lower in national rankings or because Columbia is more difficult to get into (7% acceptance rate for Columbia vs. 25% for Barnard). In reaction to the President choosing to speak at Barnard over Columbia, students have taken to the blogosphere to vent, with many doing so behind the cloak of anonymity.

Some of the comments are downright mean-spirited and have distressed and embarrassed many Columbia and Barnard students and administrators alike. So much so that a Facebook page was formed, calling for all the Columbia schools to come together against the anonymous hurling of insults. The presidents of Barnard and Columbia issued a joint statement saying, “disrespectful comments are not representative of our community.”

It’s heartening to see the Columbia University community speaking out against the nastiness of the exchange and I hope change will occur that addresses the attitudes behind the comments. I always knew that my daughter would receive a fine education at Barnard as she heads there this fall. I just didn’t think that her education would begin right now, as she witnesses this controversy and thinks critically about it for herself.

Views of Tufts University

2 Mar

Last April we visited Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts. The school mascot is Jumbo the elephant.

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