Saturday, December 6, 2008

Please impeach me

Can a PTA President be impeached? If so, I heartily submit my nomination for the process.

I'm the PTA President at my kids' school.

I realize all the stereotypes that go along with this admission. Yes, I've heard the "Type-A Overachiever mother who doesn't have a real job" label. And, yes, I've heard the "Helicopter Parent who is over-involved with her children" label. When you tell people you are the PTA President, they jump to both of these conclusions, immediately.

That's not me and that's not our school. Almost 70% of the kids at our school are poor. And not in the "live in a small house and don't go out to eat much" way. We're talking the "get our groceries from the food pantry" kind of poor.

I have a feeling that at other schools, the PTA is doing a lot of extra stuff - more books for the library, teacher appreciation events - that kind of stuff. At our school, the PTA is making sure the kids have enough to eat. Our biggest budget line-items are paying for classroom snacks and field trips. There would be no field trips if the PTA couldn't pay for them.

So, you can imagine my delight when the State PTA group rejected my by-laws for the fourth time. (Yes, fourth time) The first three times, they rejected them because I took out their mention of "place of worship" in the list of places where our PTA "promotes children's welfare." I'm all for religion and go to church regularly. But I didn't think that was appropriate for a school group by-laws. After 3 rejections, I gave up and put it back in. (I cave easily.)

This time, they rejected them because I used the term "bi-monthly" in reference to our meetings. Someone there thought the term meant "twice a month." I sent them back the bitchiest email I've sent in a while with all the links I could find with the correct definition of "bi-monthly" (which does, in fact, mean "every other month.")

We are trying to be more inclusive with our meetings, which means getting translators for two different languages, serving a full meal to all attendees, and providing free babysitting for all the kids. It's not easy to do all of that. It's been a hell of a lot of work. I was almost shouting in my email, as I explained to our state PTA that we had finally successfully managed to get the non-English speaking, poor families to come to our meetings. Finally, our meetings are representative of our school population. Finally, we are building a real community - not just the same 10 parents who attend, over and over again. To me, this is an incredible success story for our school. It's taken three years to get here.

So, to get the by-laws rejected because of the term "bi-monthly" really was the knife of bureaucracy, turning in my heart.

See, I'm not the PTA President because I have unfulfilled career ambitions or am living my life through my children.

I'm the PTA President because when I asked my "Little Sister" today what she wanted for Christmas, she turned to me and answered quietly, "mittens, please." I looked at her closely, and saw that her hands, which had been tucked inside her jacket all afternoon, surely enough, did not have mittens on them.

I hadn't noticed.

It's 7 degrees here.

How did I not notice? Really, how in God's world did I not notice that she was walking around Wisconsin in December without mittens? But I didn't.

We turned the car around and went to Target immediately and I'm pleased to report that she is now completely decked out in hats, mittens and boots.

70% of my own children's school are of the same economic demographic as my "Little Sister." I certainly can't buy all of them mittens, but I can do my small part in other ways through everyone's favorite group....the dreaded PTA.

With or without operating by-laws....


Bridgett said...

My goodness. This sounds so vaguely familiar to things I've been involved with, drowning in paperwork with umbrella organizations who don't have a single clue what's going on "on the ground."

Oh, and the mittens. I want to help you. Every lent, I knit scarves for charity, but then I have the darnedest time giving them to someone (this year I gave them to a homeless shelter run by the pastor across the street, but even she seemed hesitant). I know, nobody needs scarves by Lent (March)...but I save them and give them away the following November-ish. I know, that's 11 months away, which is a lifetime in terms of blogs, but I will remember if you want me to.

It always seems to come down to person-to-person contact. Like, if I tried to get them to kids here in the st louis public schools, I'd probably have to fill out forms in triplicate and get screened for child abuse, even though I wouldn't be seeing children. But if I can get them to someone, like I said, on the ground.

Sigh. You are doing good work. Bi-monthly or however.

Rachel said...

These are all reasons why you shouldn't be impeached, but promoted -- to State PTA. Clearly, they could use your brains, common sense, compassion and wit.

K said...

Bridgett - call a school nurse directly at one of your local elementary schools. They would LOVE the mittens. At our school, kids have to stay inside for recess if they don't have a hat/mittens (lovely Wisconsin windchills and all) Our nurse collects mittens/hats all year long to give out to kids. She always has a shortage. I'm sure St. Louis must have the same problem in some of their schools! I find that the school nurse is often the person who can distribute these sorts of things.

Bridgett said...

That's so funny to me...when I taught in SLPS, the school nurse was so vile. I mean, she would talk about little girls' body parts in the teacher workroom and would send kids who'd wet their pants down to the boiler room to dry off. She would announce school wide when somebody had lice. Never saw her with mittens to give out...

But I can try, I guess!

Tamar said...

Hi K, I found your blog on a search for helicopter parent (I write about these issues-- I think we need to stop stoning them and teach them what else to do...) but that is another matter. I wonder if you could reach out to more affluent communities nearby and get a knit-a-thon going. We did this in our community one year when my daughter was in 5th grade-- right after Christmas in January-- maybe it was a MLK Day service project-- but we knit scarves for those in need in Philadelphia. It was a great project-- mittens are harder, but maybe kids could knit scarves and donate mittens-- there is (still) so much affluence and more to the point-energy and good intention- waiting to be focused in a helpful direction. Could you write an editorial about your encounter with your "little sister" and send it to a local paper in a more affluent area-- I just think people need to know how to help.

I'm glad that the search led to your post, but no helicoptering here : )
All best,
Tamar Chansky

K said...

Thanks Tamar. I actually live in a very affluent neighborhood. (The Governor of the State is right down the street.) I reach out all the time. But most of the families in our neighborhood go to private schools, so it gets complicated. The school district buses our neighborhood to a low-income school, but it is close by - only 2 miles away. So it's not like the poverty is so far away...

I've had letters and editorials printed many times in our local papers - two in the last few months.

I think people know how to help. I think they just get too busy, or preoccupied in their own lives to actually do it.

A knit-a-thon sounds like a great idea. The kids don't really need scarves, but there have got to be some good mitten knitters out there!

K said...

Oh - and Tamar - I just clicked through to your website. I have your book "Freeing your child from anxiety" and it has been one of the most helpful parenting books I have read in my life. I have an "anxious" child and really - your book has helped our entire family. Everyone should have this book!!!!

E said...

Watch out or you'll be in a a race with the Governor next. This is how it starts.....

LisaS said...

B, I can put you in contact with the people who will appreciate your gift. you just can't work within the channels. and the (useless) school nurses are a thing of the past with the budget cuts and all.

K ... keep up the good fight. and if you need me to come up & stuff the PTA paperwork down the shirts of the people at the state office so you can do what you're there to do, let me know. i'll do it with pleasure.

Bridgett said...

Lisa: we'll talk come next fall.

Jennifer said...

You rock.

(psst - want us to start an email campaign to get your bylaws approved? we'll do it...and they'll be sorry. ;)