As a mom who does part-time work for the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, I saw it as my professional as well as parental duty to see the much-hyped documentary Waiting for Superman. So I went, with a group of friends, to see what filmmaker Davis Guggenheim had to say about the state of the American public school system. Many of the criticisms I had read in advance of the film are fair. I doubt Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is really made of Kryptonite and I am sure even Metropolis has had its fair share of failed charter schools.
But the film masterfully paints the heartbreaking picture it sets out to -- one of too many youths being cheated out of the American Dream by the failure of their public education. The film's narrative revolves around five of these kids, bright and adorable -- and dead serious about getting a better education. Their parents believe they can achieve and are committed to doing right by them, regardless of the sacrifices that may entail. And this gave me pause.
Do my kids even realize that there are parents out there that have to work two jobs, take the subway an hour each way, and leap tall buildings in a single bound in order to give their children what my kids are pretty much getting right up the street?
So last Sunday I took my 13-year-old son to the 11:15 a.m. showing at Sundance. What would a middle class white kid have to say about failing schools in some of the nations poorest neighborhoods? Would it make him think differently about the school he was attending?
His immediate post-film concern was that this was my way of telling him I had entered him in the lottery for the SEED School featured in the movie -- a weekday boarding school in inner city D.C. Once I assured him we were out of district, we could get down to talking about his reaction to the film. In all, I think he found it interesting, even though he couldn't fully relate to the lives of the featured kids.
He had lots of great, unanswered questions: How does teacher tenure benefit students? Why doesn't the film show any of the non-charter public schools that are doing well? Was poverty the reason that most of the poorest performing public schools in Wisconsin are clustered along lower Lake Michigan? But, when I asked him what he found most surprising about the film, his answer echoed mine -- how incredibly motivated the kids and their parents were about doing whatever it took to get a better education. They weren't just waiting for a superhero; they were actively looking for phone booths.
Next Tuesday, the MMSD is coming together with community partners including MTI and the Urban League to host a public conversation on education and reform in Capitol City. While we are not South Central, Madison has its fair share of issues. It will take more than the simple formula presented at movie's end to tackle big issues like the achievement gap and school funding.
Maybe it is best the district is reaching out, not waiting for Superman. I'm not even sure phone booths exist anymore. But yes, I will still be slightly disappointed if Superintendent Dan Nerad doesn't show up to Tuesday's night meeting in tights and a cape. Talk about a conversation-starter.comments powered by Disqus
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.