Life in Disturbia

Well, despite our best efforts, the family budget is not going to sustain sending my daughter to the academically rich, private, all girls (particularly appealing to my husband, as are the singularly unattractive uniforms) high school. You simply cannot squeeze another mortgage payment every month out of a budget that is barely making the first mortgage payment. That being said, I am finding myself dealing with the public school system for the first time other than paying my tax bills over the past 27 years. And the suburban public high school is proving to be a very disturbing experience. I am terribly sorry, but I simply do not remember the Dean and the army of counselors being this solicitous and cheerful. I went to a very large public high school, and the Gestapo didn't have much on the administrative staff.

Before we could even speak to a real person, we had to go online and fill out a registration form. Obviously, paper and pencil no longer exist. We were then given a password and user ID....like anybody needs another one of those. Finally, we were to present ourselves in the office, which ironically is housed underneath the bleachers along the football field. When I was silly enough to enquire as to the unique and somewhat scruffy location, I was informed that the choice was made to accomodate those parents and adult guardians who are under court order not to be within a certain distance of school buildings and children. I didn't bother to ask why they were still considered parents or adult guardians with such a court order hanging over their heads. So glad we are making their involvement in the education process possible. This meeting was a bit anti-climactic, and about all we learned is that my daughter was assigned to a house and should report on another day to meet her counselor. Images of Harry Potter and the sorting hat are still flitting through my mind on this particular arrangment. Perhaps that is how they will determine my daughter's capability for class assignments.

Sixteen days until the first day of school, and we arrive bright and early for the meeting with the counselor. After wending our way through endless hallways, the direct approach being completely obstructed by construction tape and large industrial floor waxing machines at every turn, we arrive at the "house", only to find out we are misinformed. My daughter's name is alphabetically in another house. At least this time, an extremely cheerful administrative type offered to lead us through the maze. Thus far, I am not really feeling that I am getting the best possible bang for my excessive tax dollars. Lockers have to be shared as there are not enough to go around. You mean that my tax dollars cannot be expended on making sure that each child can secure their belongings? Basically, my daughter will have to carry everything around with her like a Bedouin to insure that her property remains her property.

Don't get me wrong. Kids in the private schools exercise the five finger discount as well as public school kids. My son lost several pair of expensive athletic shoes (not because we are trendy or brand conscious, but because he wore size 14 1/2, which are never on sale and almost never in stock). These thefts occurred due to my son's own stupidity in not locking up said shoes. Once he figured out that putting things behind the padlock was simple security, the shoe theft stopped. The frustrating part of about private school theft is that in 99% of cases, the parents could well afford to buy the kid ten pairs of athletic shoes. At least in a public school, you can always console yourself that perhaps the thief's need was greater than you own kid.

But aside from theft, the other thing that makes me uncomfortable about the locker sharing thing is a combination of factors, one of which is school's zero tolerance policies on everything. I don't want my kid suffering penalty, suspension, or expulsion because of something a lockermate brought to school...the usual stuff...drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, weapons....How does one prove whose stuff it is? And what is to prevent the guilty party from trying to ascribe blame to the other lockermate? And in a zero tolerance setting, there is no proof of guilt or innocence, but unilateral, across the board, punishment for both parties. Perhaps I need to run for the schoolboard, because I seem to be the only adult who forsees problems with this arrangement. Hey, I am just remembering all the stuff that went on when I was in high school, except we had our own lockers-no sharing required.

If you ask me, my daughter's new counselor is entirely too concerned about my child's happiness quotient. She is a moody, female teen, so happiness is not necessarily what she wants. This age group thrives on drama and suffering. Everything adults do is stupid and embarassing, particularly if the adults are her parents. We are out to make her life a misery. She is so anxious to grow up and move out and prove how stupid Mom and Dad are. Unfortunately, teachers, counselors, and principals all fall into the same category as parents. My son used to tell everyone that we were the "fun Nazis".
So, I wasn't expecting sunshine and roses. My husband's mantra is "Four more years!", at which point he gets to pack her up and take her to college, give her a huge hug and tell her "see you at Thanksgiving." I am not hard hearted, just been through this teen gig before.

The counselor seemed to be taken aback when I informed him that my daughter's participation in ROTC was non-negotiable. Her brother did so, and we pride ourselves on not treating the siblings differently. He seemed more worried about how many other kids my daughter knew than which courses she will be taking in less than three weeks. An inordinate amount of time was spent asking my daughter if she knew this kid or that family.

Finally, she is handed one sheet of paper to select courses...She is a freshman, what is to select? The state has very clear requirements on what kids have to accomplish for graduation, and they are letting kids have choices? So,how many kids get four years into this and discover that they don't meet the state minimums for graduation? At the private school, last spring, she was given a reading list to complete before the school year started for her English lit and social science classes. There were six different books on that list. Then she is asked if she wants to take the remedial, regular level, or advanced level of coursework. Once again, you are giving teenagers a choice? I can see a choice between taking Spanish, or French, or German. The actual fact of taking a foreign language is not a choice if you hope to attend a university and potentially win scholarship money. Used to be that electives were the privilege of the upperclassmen, juniors and seniors.

It gets better, because after this debate and discussion, there was worried concern that my daughter might not be able to fit lunch into her schedule. But not to worry, she can eat in the counselor's office. I am still puzzling over that one. How does she eat in the counselor's office if she doesn't have a lunch period? And isn't it illegal not to give kids a lunch period if they are in school for more than so many hours in a day? And before we can even resolve the lunch issue, the counselor says that the schedule is subject to change based upon my daughter's test results. And by the way, she has to come a week from tomorrow armed with number 2 pencils, bright and early, so they can test her to determine where to place her....Didn't we just put the cart in front of the horse by giving her a class list and asking for her choices? Does this counselor realize that he has entered into a unilateral contract with a teenage female...there is no way that he wins in this scenario. He has given the choice and will not be allowed to take it back. My child is like a pit bull with a pig ear. Just try to get it away from her.

The final piece of paper is the list of extra curricular activities available such as sports teams and clubs. More choices! Don't they require teachers and counselors to take basic developmental psychology any longer? The sports are broken up into two categories which include sports that you have to try out for, and sports that have to take you. My daughter was muttering something about winning a varsity letter for bowling. Reassurances all around that there will be no problem with my daughter's transition into high school life, because each of these houses has its own social worker and psychologist, along with its own dean of students....the mind boggles at the duplication of services, and the burgeoning cost of administrative staff. No wonder almost 2/3 of my entire property tax bill goes to the public school district.

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  • Abandon all hope ye who are entering and living with the above.........

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    My suspicions that good money has been thrown after bad over the last 27 years of property taxes has been confirmed in just a bit over a week of contact with the public schools.....I truly didn't appreciate how wonderful life was, how ordered, how sensible with my kids in private school. Just feel really bad that Mom and Dad haven't been able to squeak it out for Mac for high school (We are focused on making sure the ducks are back in a row by college time)

  • Just a footnote: I had a business meeting, so my husband had to take my daughter for her placement testing. He took the opportunity to wallk the class route (well the tentative one anyway) while waiting for her to finish. His perceptions of this are not a whole lot more sterling than mine.....at least, I feel somewhat reassured that I am not crazy or being unfairly harsh....He was all set to do battle with the notion that my daughter having a study hall (which to my recollection was always a total waste of time, and served only to make you feel like you were in detention without doing anything wrong) was considered more important than an opportunity to eat her lunch.

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